nena masthead
NENA Home Staff & Editors For Readers For Authors


Charles T. Roman, Bruce Jacobson, and Jack Wiggin

Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 12, Special Issue 3 (2005): 3–12

Full-text pdf (Accessible only to subscribers.To subscribe click here.)


Access Journal Content

Open access browsing of table of contents and abstract pages. Full text pdfs available for download for subscribers.

Issue-in-Progress: Vol.30 (1) ... early view

Current Issue: Vol. 29 (4)
NENA 29(4)

All Regular Issues


Special Issues






JSTOR logoClarivate logoWeb of science logoBioOne logo EbscoHOST logoProQuest logo

Introduction to a Special Issue BOSTON HARBOR ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK AREA: NATURAL RESOURCES OVERVIEW CHARLES T. ROMAN1, BRUCE JACOBSON2, AND JACK WIGGIN3 The Islands and the Park Boston Harbor Islands national park area includes 34 discrete islands and peninsulas, ranging in size from small rock outcrops (e.g., The Graves, Little Calf Island) to Worlds End, a complex of woodland, grassland, freshwater and coastal wetlands, and intertidal habitats (Fig. 1). Given a large mean tidal range of 2.9 m (9.5 ft) within Boston Harbor, many of the islands have extensive intertidal areas of sandflats and mudflats, cobble and coarse sand beaches, salt marshes, and rocky shores. Intertidal areas are almost equal to the terrestrial area of the islands (Table 1). A geographic grouping of the islands would include the outer islands or Brewster Islands, the inner islands or Dorchester Bay Islands, the Quincy Bay Islands, and the Hingham Bay Islands. Aside from the few outcrops of exposed bedrock, most of the islands are geologically classified as drumlins, elongate landforms of unconsolidated glacial tills (Rosen and Leach 1987). As these drumlin islands erode, the sediment is reworked to form sand and gravel spits, beaches, and tombolos (beaches or bars connecting islands to each other or the mainland). The park includes approximately 55 km (34 mi) of shoreline, most of which is relatively undeveloped. All of the islands have a rich history of human use; many islands have structures, and some islands (e.g., Deer, Little Brewster, and Thompson) are still occupied with institutional uses. These various landforms, the interface of marine and terrestrial environments, and past land use within an urban region all contribute to a diversity of habitats found throughout the islands. Visitors to the national park area are likely to be drawn to the different habitats that are represented, the historical and cultural attractions, and the beaches and recreational facilities. 1National Park Service, North Atlantic Coast Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882-1197; 2National Park Service, Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area, 408 Atlantic Avenue—Suite 228, Boston, MA 02110; 3Urban Harbors Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125; Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area: Natural Resources Overview 2005 Northeastern Naturalist 12(Special Issue 3):3–12 4 Northeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, Special Issue 3 Administratively, the Boston Harbor Islands were designated by the United States Congress as a national park in 1996. The federal enabling legislation created a 13-member Boston Harbor Islands Partnership, charged with coordinating activities of the island landowners and managers. Unlike other national park units, land ownership is not with the National Park Service, but the National Park Service serves an important role in public education and working with the Partnership to protect natural and cultural resources, consistent with National Park Service standards. Due to the Partnership management structure, a number of federal, state, municipal, and not-for-profit entities have continuing responsibilities to protect park resources and provide visitor services. In 2002, the Partnership endorsed a general management plan, defining the mission and future direction of the park. The plan includes objectives for managing natural resources, such as restoration of natural systems, maintenance of native biota, conservation of rare biota, protection of water and air resources, and promotion of natural geologic processes (National Park Service 2002). It is imperative that a comprehensive natural resource information base be assembled to refine these management objectives, and to develop resource protection and restoration management strategies, enhance our understanding of how the island ecosystems function, appreciate the role of human impacts on the islands’ natural resources and processes, and enhance our ability to predict changes in ecosystem structure and function. While the islands have been used for many purposes over a period measured in millennia, until recently there have been few attempts to quantify the resources scientifically. A resource inventory and monitoring Photo: Great Brewster Island from Middle Brewster. (Morss photo) 2005 C.T. Roman, B. Jacobson, and J. Wiggin 5 Figure 1. Boston Harbor Islands national park area consists of 34 islands and peninsulas within 50 square miles of Massachusetts Bay, a part of the Gulf of Maine. Photo: View from Great Brewster Island of Boston Harbor Light on Little Brewster Island. (Morss photo) 6 Northeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, Special Issue 3 initiative by the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership has yielded an emerging baseline of natural resource and social science information. Baseline information is essential for several reasons. It provides an enhanced scientific basis for resource protection and restoration initiatives, and for visitor management. It allows park managers to identify Table 1. Area of terrestrial (e.g., forests, shrublands, grasslands, freshwater wetlands, rock outcrops, development, others) and intertidal (e.g., rocky shores, mud and sand flats, salt marsh, gravel and sand beaches, others) habitats associated with Boston Harbor Islands. Data Source: Bell et al. 2002. Area (ha) Island Terrestrial Intertidal Total Outer Islands Calf 7.5 6.5 14.0 Great Brewster 7.5 19.8 27.3 Green 1.0 6.0 7.0 Little Brewster 1.3 1.7 3.0 Little Calf 0.4 1.6 2.0 Middle Brewster 5.0 3.8 8.8 Outer Brewster 7.7 4.1 11.8 Shag Rocks 0.2 2.4 2.6 The Graves 0.1 1.8 1.9 Quincy Bay Islands Gallops 9.2 11.2 20.4 Georges 15.8 5.6 21.4 Hangman 0.2 2.2 2.4 Lovells 19.6 28.8 48.4 Nixes Mate < 0.1 8.1 8.1 Nut 6.8 16.5 23.3 Rainsford 6.6 9.3 15.9 Hingham Bay Islands Bumpkin 12.2 12.7 24.9 Button 0.2 46.9 47.1 Grape 21.9 18.8 40.7 Langlee 1.8 1.4 3.2 Peddocks 74.6 42.1 116.7 Raccoon 1.3 3.2 4.5 Ragged 1.1 27.3 28.4 Sarah 1.4 18.4 19.8 Sheep 0.4 8.4 8.8 Slate 4.8 15.2 20.0 Webb State Park 13.9 22.3 36.2 Worlds End 104.5 46.6 151.1 Inner Islands Deer 74.9 32.5 107.4 Long 85.1 34.9 120.0 Moon 21.9 87.1 109.0 Snake 2.9 29.4 32.3 Spectacle 34.6 11.5 46.1 Thompson 54.2 53.0 107.2 Total Area, ha (acres) 600 (1483) 641 (1584) 1241 (3067) 2005 C.T. Roman, B. Jacobson, and J. Wiggin 7 resource components that are of particular value and consider this information when making management decisions. These components may include rare habitats, endangered species, vulnerable geological features, sites of significant cultural or historical interest, and sites of recreational or educational value. Baseline information is also essential for monitoring trends, especially changes that might be the result of activities and management actions within or adjacent to the park, as well as regional and even global activities. About This Special Issue This collection of manuscripts provides detail on several studies highlighted at the October 2003 Boston Harbor Islands Science Symposium. We are fortunate to have Dr. Edward O. Wilson, keynote speaker at the Symposium, lead this Special Issue of Northeastern Naturalist with some insightful comments on opportunities the islands offer for investigating the related concepts of biodiversity and island biogeography. The contributed papers begin with descriptions of historic vegetation and landscape processes as understood through analysis of historical accounts from the 1600s to the present (Richburg and Patterson), and by detailed paleoecological interpretation of a deep sediment core (Patterson et al.). Human influence has been obvious in shaping island landscapes within a region with over three centuries of urban development. Several contributed papers provide inventories of specific taxonomic groups including vascular plants (Elliman), lichens and bryophytes (LaGreca et al.), macrolepidoptera (Mello), and birds, including waterbirds, landbirds, and shorebirds (Paton et al.). Detailed descriptions and maps of the extensive intertidal marine habitats associated with the islands are presented by Bell et al. The final manuscript addresses the topic of visitor carrying capacity (Manning et al.), a topic that is perhaps unique for a natural history journal like Northeastern Naturalist, but highly relevant to planners and resource managers as protection of island natural resources is pursued. In fact, authors of all the papers in this issue discuss the specific relevance of their findings to the protection and restoration of natural resources. This Special Issue is far from comprehensive, but represents a good beginning. As additional inventories are completed, research projects pursued, and long-term monitoring programs initiated, the natural resource database will grow. Presentations at a 2002 seminar hosted by the MIT Sea Grant College Program (Jacobson and Pederson 2002) and the follow-up Boston Harbor Islands Science Symposium point to the varied topics being addressed throughout the park. For instance, studies 8 Northeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, Special Issue 3 Photo: Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), Sarah Island rookery. (Morss photo) Photo: Captain Russ Bowles, University of Massachusetts–Boston, Marine Division, off Lovells Island. (Morss photo) 2005 C.T. Roman, B. Jacobson, and J. Wiggin 9 Photographer's Note - As a member of the park's Advisory Council, I wanted to become more familiar with the Harbor Islands. As fate would have it, the Partnership was embarking on the studies described in the Special Issue. Over several years, I accompanied scientsts to all 34 Islands and photographed the incredible diversity I found. On a typical trip, researchers investigated many resources: plants, birds, intertidal zone, and lichens, among others. We landed in varied weather conditions and in all seasons—thanks to the able captains at UMass– Boston. I accompanied the researchers and also spent time on my own absorbing the unique environments. Often we circumnavigated an island in opposite directions and compared notes on the back side. Many of the researchers are now my friends, and the knowledge they shared adds immensely to my appreciation of the park. My hope is that the photo essay spread throughout this Special Issue will awaken interest in the Boston Harbor Islands, a natural and cultural treasure in our own front yard. I, for one, was unprepared for what I found. Sherman Morss, Jr., Vice-Chair Boston Harbor Islands Advisory Council Photo: Botanist Ted Elliman surveys a Spartina alterniflora fringe marsh, Button Island. (Morss photo) 10 Northeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, Special Issue 3 are underway to evaluate the role of sea level rise, storms, and boat wakes on island geomorphology. Monitoring of water and sediment quality and response of the system to improved wastewater treatment are fundamentally important to interpreting changes to the natural resources of the islands and evaluating water-based recreational opportunities at area beaches (Rex et al. 2002). The National Park Service is developing a long-term environmental monitoring program for all coastal park units throughout the northeastern US, including the Boston Harbor Islands. A suite of physical, chemical, and biological indicators are currently being identified and tested with the aim of providing managers with early warning of emerging issues and problems that may require intervention. These and many other studies, projects, and longterm activities will hopefully be the focus of future volumes about the Boston Harbor Islands national park area. The Islands as Laboratories and Classrooms The Boston Harbor Islands are situated at the doorstep of numerous nationally and internationally renowned academic and research communities, and we expect that this Special Issue will generate interest in the study of the Boston Harbor Islands complex. There is a wonderful opportunity to design research, inventory, and monitoring projects that take full advantage of the diverse gradient of conditions that the islands offer, as many of the studies presented in this Special Issue have done. For instance, biotic species composition and abundance, in both terrestrial and marine environments, can be assessed along gradients of island size, proximity to the mainland, substrate type, wind, wave, and salt spray exposure, visitor use patterns, development history and intensity, air quality, and others. Studies conducted throughout the Boston Harbor Islands will not only assist natural resource managers in making scientifically informed decisions related to resource protection, but valuable contributions can be made with regard to topics of urban ecology, biodiversity, restoration ecology, and climate change, among others. Of further importance, the islands are accessible to metropolitan Boston. Annually, more than 5000 schoolchildren visit the park as part of their curriculum. The islands serve as an outdoor classroom for science exploration and, most significantly, provide students with an opportunity to understand the fundamental role of natural resource stewardship initiatives. Acknowledgments As is customary for Northeastern Naturalist, each manuscript in this Special Issue was assigned a Guest Editor with the responsibility of coordinating peer 2005 C.T. Roman, B. Jacobson, and J. Wiggin 11 review. Thanks are extended to the following Guest Editors and numerous anonymous peer reviewers for contributing their time and expertise toward making this an informative volume: Bets Brown, Ronald Davis, Steven Hamburg, Mary Foley, Jeff Marion, Scott Melvin, John Rawlins, David Richardson, and Paul Somers. Thanks also go to Jane Crosen, Mary-Jane James-Pirri, and Keith Goldfarb for providing editorial assistance, and to Pat Morss for photography. Special thanks are extended to Joerg-Henner Lotze and Glen Mittelhauser of Northeastern Naturalist for working closely with us throughout a long but rewarding process. Finally, each individual manuscript gratefully acknowledges financial support, and we want to further recognize the following for their contributions to enhancing scientific understanding of the Boston Harbor Islands: National Park Service, Island Alliance, Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts Environmental Trust, and The Harold Whitworth Pierce Charitable Trust. The latter two generously support the production of this Special Issue. Literature Cited Bell, R., M. Chandler, R. Buchsbaum, and C. Roman. 2002. Inventory of intertidal habitats: Boston Harbor Islands, a national park area. Technical Report NPS/NERBOST/NRTR-2004/1. National Park Service, Northeast Region, Boston, MA. 138 pp. Jacobson, B., and J. Pederson. 2002. Boston Harbor Islands national park area: 2002 islands’ biodiversity—Seminar. MIT Sea Grant College Program Publication Number 03-22. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. 50 pp. National Park Service. 2002. Boston Harbor Islands: A national park area. General management plan. National Park Service, Northeast Region, Boston, MA. 192 pp. Rex, A.C., D. Wu, K. Coughlin, M. Hall, K.E. Keay, and D.I. Taylor. 2002. The State of Boston Harbor, mapping the harbor’s recovery. Technical Report No. 2002-09. Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Boston, MA. 42 pp. Rosen, P.S., and K. Leach. 1987. Sediment accumulation forms, Thompson Island, Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. Pp. 233–250, In D.M. FitzGerald and P.S. Rosen (Eds.). Glaciated Coasts. Academic Press, Inc., New York, NY. 12 Northeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, Special Issue 3 Photo: Boston Light, Little Brewster Island. (Morss photo)