Tracking the Long Term Health of Harbor Islands Ecosystems

Brian Mitchell
Northeast Temperate Network
54 Elm Street
Woodstock, VT 05091
(802) 457-3368
e-mail author


Delivered at the 2011 Boston Harbor Islands Science Symposium

The National Park Service's Inventory and Monitoring program is tasked with tracking representative indicators (or "vital signs") of ecological health in over 270 parks nationwide. At Boston Harbor Islands, the NPS Northeast Temperate Inventory and Monitoring Network is engaged in several long-term monitoring projects. This program focuses on describing the various developing programs of the network. Rocky intertidal monitoring will track trends in cover and elevational range of target invertebrate and algae species using photoquadrats, transects, and other methods. After several years of pilot monitoring, this protocol is scheduled for full implementation in 2012 at 3 sites. Salt marsh vegetation is being tracked at 5 salt marshes. For this program, college interns will evaluate percent cover of all species found in 30 random quadrats per site. Sites are visited every 3 years, with Boston Harbor sites scheduled for 2012 and 2013. Salt marsh sediment elevation is being tracked at 10 surface elevation tables spread across four marshes; these sites are visited multiple times per year and will help determine whether the Harbor's marshes are threatened by sea level rise. Invasive species early detection is occurring on 12 islands, using park staff and volunteers with botanical interests. In 2011, the program detected porcelainberry at two sites, both of which are now being aggressively treated to remove this invasive species. Phenology, or recurring plant and animal life cycle stages, is being tracked for several species along a number of monitoring routes. Phenology is probably the most obvious local impact of global climate change, and data collected on the Harbor Islands is helping feed regional and national datasets aimed at tracking the impacts of climate change. Most of the phenology data is collected by citizen scientists. The Northeast Temperate Network is also analyzing and reporting weather and climate data, and a complete report for the Islands will be available sometime in 2012. The Northeast Temperate Network is approaching full implementation of monitoring projects for indicators of ecological health on the Harbor Islands. These projects involve contributions from people with a variety of skills, ranging from professional biologists to citizen scientists. We strive to include citizens in monitoring whenever possible, since public involvement is essential to our goal of preserving the islands' natural resources for this and future generations.

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