System-wide Monitoring Program

All 28 Reserves carry out a System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP), using the same protocols. Programs include weather, water quality, habitat mapping, salt marsh vegetation, and submerged aquatic vegetation. These data are available from the Centralized Data Management Office:

  • Weather: The Reserve weather station measures temperature, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, precipitation, sunlight and atmospheric conditions.
  • Water quality: The Reserve uses four automated dataloggers to monitor physical and chemical variables at 15-minute intervals. Measures of water quality include temperature, water depth, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. The Reserve periodically takes samples at one automated datalogger to measure nutrients (ammonium, nitrate, nitrite, ortho-phosphate, and chlorophyll a).

Click here to view a four page SWMP annual report showing 2016 trends in the Reserve’s water quality and meteorological data from the last 10 years.

Click here for an analysis of 16 years of trends derived from the system wide monitoring program, by Research Coordinator, Megan Tyrrell in 2017. She examined the water quality data to determine if, for example, critical temperature thresholds affecting organism growth or survival have been crossed during crucial times of the year. Additionally, she presented some meteorological data analyses that examined whether the increase in extreme precipitation events have led to salinity drops or turbidity spikes near the salt marsh water quality monitoring station.

Waquoit Bay NERR Water Quality Monitoring Sites

Click on map above to view larger image

Water Quality

The Upper Childs River Restoration – Stream Temperature Monitoring Data
The Childs River flows south on Cape Cod through Mashpee and Falmouth into Waquoit Bay and Vineyard Sound. Since the mid-1800s, mill dams and cranberry farming have severely impacted the hydrology, water quality, aquatic habitat, terrestrial habitat, and fish passage throughout the river’s length. The Falmouth Rod and Gun Club are leading a partnership effort to address these issues. Once completed, this project will have removed one dam and four additional fish passage barriers, improved a stream crossing for added freshwater and terrestrial organism passage, improved water quality, and restored 15.1 acres of retired cranberry bog to a more natural stream and wetland ecosystem.  Restoration of Eastern brook trout populations are major component of the restoration project. As part of this monitoring efforts, instream temperatures are recorded at 15 minute intervals at 12 locations to assess project impacts on trout habitat.

Bay Watchers: Initiated in 1993, the WBNERR Bay Watcher program is comprised of volunteer, citizen-based monitors who conduct field sampling and water quality measurements throughout the year. These monitors measure several key environmental parameters (such as temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, and chlorophyll) in Waquoit Bay and its associated water bodies. WBNERR Bay Watchers form a key data collection component of the WBNERR Water Quality Database. Bay Watcher data expands geographic coverage of water quality sampling throughout the entire watershed, and provides comparative data at our 3 SWMP stations.

Pond Watchers: Volunteers from the organization Falmouth Water Stewards collect water samples from the south- and west-facing facing saltponds in Falmouth on a weekly basis. They measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and turbidity. Results are analyzed with Reserve staff help and reported weekly in the Falmouth Enterprise. This program broadens the geographic reach of the Reserve’s water quality collection, and keeps awareness of the weekly changes in water quality front and center through local media.

USGS Stream Gauge program – Quashnet River: USGS and other federal and state agencies monitor stream/river flow throughout the US using stream gauges. The data has a high importance for all water resource managers as well as emergency managers in case of flood conditions. Data on QuashnetRiver flow – the largest freshwater input into WaquoitBay – is highly valuable environmental information for WBNERR researchers. The Quashnet River gauge is currently the only one on Cape Cod. While this program is not operated by WBNERR, it is located within the Reserve and on Reserve land, and monitors the Reserve’s most important fresh water stream. Due to budget cutbacks, there have attempts, in the past, to eliminate this important station from the program. This and the SWMP programs are both part of the National Hydrometeorological Data System. WBNERR has high interest in seeing this important monitoring program maintained.

River Instream Flow Stewards (RIFLS): Managed by the MA Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) (formerly Riverways). RIFLS is a program that enables local groups to learn about the importance of healthy streamflow, document streamflow on otherwise un-gauged rivers and restore more natural flow regimes in rivers suffering from abnormal flow alterations. Streamflow data are essential in determining suitability of rivers for fish restoration, specifically sea-run brook trout and river herring. WBNERR cooperates with DER, Falmouth Rod and Gun Club, and Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Salt Marsh and Submerged Plants

Kenny Raposa, Ph.D., Research Coordinator, Narragansett Bay NERR, TLP Principal Investigator (left) and Gregg Moore, University of New Hampshire/Great Bay NERR

Thin-layer Sediment Placement: Evaluating an Adaptation Strategy to Enhance Coastal Marsh Resilience Across the NERRS
Tidal marshes provide key ecosystem services, but are threatened by sea level rise. Narragansett Bay and Elkhorn Slough NERRs recently led a project to assess marsh resilience to sea level rise across 16 NERR sites, resulting in a scientific publication, user-friendly summary, and DIY tool. Currently, eight NERR sites across the East, Gulf and West coasts are actively testing strategies to examine the effectiveness of thin-layer sediment placement as a climate adaptation strategy.

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV – macro-algae and eelgrass)
One of the biggest contributors to poor water quality on Cape Cod is the addition of too much nitrogen to the bays. Septic systems are the primary source (only about 15% of the Cape is sewered, and septic systems do almost nothing to remove nitrogen), though fertilizer and air pollution also play a role. Delivered to the bay by groundwater or surface run-off, the nitrogen acts as a fertilizer leading to large algae blooms, which shade and kill eelgrass and deplete oxygen from the water. Surveying the distribution and species composition of SAV over time helps illuminate how this process may be changing in Waquoit Bay, revealing, for example, if new species of algae are becoming dominant, whether the little remaining eelgrass is disappearing, or whether climate change is affecting SAV distribution. Thus, the survey helps determine how natural and/or human-caused factors may influence the overall health and sustainability of the estuarine system.  Surveys were done in 2004, 2007, 2011, and 2016. Analyses of intriguing trends related to nutrient inputs and increasing water temperatures, including declining eelgrass but variable changes in algae biomass were presented by Jordan Mora at the New England Estuarine Research Society Meeting in 2018.

Evaluating the Impact of Hydrologic Alterations on Salt Marsh Sustainability in a Changing Climate

FACT SHEET: Project Overview
WHOI Website: Marsh Sustainability & Hydrology
Marshes, Mosquitos & Sea Level Rise-Oceanus Magazine Video Link

Coastal managers are faced with the challenge of managing marsh hydrology in a way that meets human health needs, optimizes ecosystem services, and supports sustainability. In New England this includes accounting for the effects of ditches that were dug decades ago in 90% of the region’s salt marshes.

Ditches increase marsh drainage and reduce the spatial extent of shallow pools that may represent physical loss of buried soil carbon. However, efficient drainage may reduce the long-term sustainability of marshes by altering below ground biogeochemical and physical processes in a way that results in subsidence and lowered marsh elevation. Managers, restoration practitioners, and scientists at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project have expressed a need to understand the tradeoffs of hydrologic management strategies (i.e., ditch remediation, density, maintenance) and identify actions that will achieve user-specified outcomes— such as drainage, maintaining elevation, and carbon burial.

This project is a collaboration between scientists and end users to develop decision-support tools for marsh hydrological management strategies that promote sustainability and delivery of valuable ecosystem services under future sea level scenarios.

Project Partners: Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project, Louisiana State University, National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, United States Geologic Survey, Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Salt Marsh Biomonitoring:

FACT SHEET: Communicating Results from the Tidal Marsh Resilience Synthesis
FACT SHEET: Assessing Tidal Marsh Resilience to Sea Level Rise at Broad Geographic Scales with Multi-metric Indices
Rising to the Challenge: Will Tidal Marshes Survive Rising Seas (Meagan Gonneea, Ph.D., USGS)

Surface elevation tables have been monitored annually at South Cape Beach Sage Lot Pond, plant species are recorded by percent cover and density. In addition, certain physical variables are also recorded, including relative marsh surface elevation and groundwater depth, temperature, and salinity. Human impacts (e.g., nutrient enrichment or tidal restrictions) and environmental stressors (e.g., climate change effects such as precipitation rates and sea level rise) can drastically alter the spatial distribution and species composition of salt marsh plant communities. Changes in the biological structure of the marsh can result in reduced habitat and function. By closely monitoring the biological and physical variables of salt marshes over time, coastal researchers and resource managers will have a better understanding of how these estuarine systems respond to particular disturbances, and consequently, will be better equipped to protect the future health and integrity of coastal marshes.


Weather Data

Water Quality Data

Tides & Currents