United States    . Office of       Office of
             Environmental     Research and    Water
             Protection Agency  Development

             EPA/822/F-97/004April 1997
&EPA    Waquoit Bay

 The watershed consists of freshwater streams and
 ponds, saltwater ponds and marshes, pine and oak
 forests, barrier .beaches and open estuarine waters.
What is an eco9ogicaS risk assessment?

     n ecological risk assessment evaluates the
     potential.adverse effects of human activities on
     tthe plants and animals that make up ecosystems.
The risk assessment ^process provides a way to develop,
organize and present scientific information so that it is
relevant to environmental decisions. When conducted
for a particular place such as a watershed, the ecologi-
cal risk assessment process can be used to identify
vulnerable and valued resources, prioritize data collec-
tion activities, and link human activities with their
potential effects. Risk assessments provide a focal
point for cooperation among local communities and
state and federal government agencies, and a basis for
comparing different management options.

 Why is Waquoit Bay special?
        aquoit Bay is a shallow Cape Cod estuary fed
        by grpundwater and freshwater streams.
        Because the Bay is close to the mixing zone
 between the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and
 the colder waters of the Labrador Current, many
 important fish species are found in the Bay. Alewives,
 bluefish, striped bass, winter flounder, menhaden,
 and tautogs all reside in the Bay for at least part of
 the year. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has
                        designated Waquoit Bay as
                        an Area of Critical Environ-
                        mental Concern. The Bay
                        has also been designated as
                        a National Estuarine
                        Research Reserve. These
                        designations help reduce
                        existing and future human
                        disturbances to the Bay's
                        watershed. Federal, state
 and local resource agencies, various regional and
 local citizen interest groups, and academic organiza-
tions, are  worMng, together to preserve and restore
 the quality of the Waquoit Bay estuary and its
 associated freshwater ponds and rivers.
      Cape Cod,
      with the Waquoit
      Bay area high-
      lighted. The
      Waquoit Bay
      watershed covers
      53km? (21m2)
      on the south
      shore of
      Cape Cod.
Many Federally-protected birds, such as the Least Tern (pictured here)
nest or forage along Washbyrn Island in Waquoit Bay.

How can this valuable resource be protected?

    a he waters of Waquoit Bay and its associated rivers
     and ponds show signs of degradation such as
     eutrophication, habitat
loss and resource depletion.
Stressors in the Waquoit Bay
watershed result from land
use practices along the coast
and from upland areas. This
ecological risk assessment
will analyze the stressors
and resulting ecological
effects in the Waquoit Bay
watershed. The assessment
                                Key stressors under
                                evaluation are?

                                  nutrient enrichaient.....
                                  (nitrogen loading)*'
                                  suspended sediments
                                  changes in water
                                  flow patterns
                                  inputs of toxic
                                 1 physical .alterations
                                  of habitat?   ,"'"*",''
                                  j }<  -?  i*  t \ ?   it*
promotes community
awareness of ecological
problems in the watershed
and will provide information
to resource managers, including government officials,
organizations and the public so they can make more
ecologically informed decisions. These activities
promote environmentally beneficial results.
IHiow is the ecological risk assessment being done?

   Interested organizations collectively developed a
   management goal and a scientific study approach.
   Because many of the ecological effects observed
in the Waquoit Bay watershed are related to loss of
the once extensive eelgrass beds, the risk assessment
research will focus on the causes of this loss, and ways
to halt or reverse it. Relationships between nutrient
enrichment and eelgrass loss are being analyzed. This
will provide information to estimate risks associated
with la.nd-ujse decisions. A report describing the
management goals for the Waquoit Bay watershed and
the analysis plan for the assessment will be available
upon completion of the analysis described above.

                                    Eelgrass beds, once
                                    extensive in Waquoit Bay
                                    are home to numerous
                                    fish, shellfish and other
                                    invertebrates. Eelgrass
                                    is highly susceptible to
                                    water quality conditions,
                                    requiring clear water that
                                    allows light to penetrate
                                    for photosynthesis.
 How will the results be used?

      I he Waquoit Bay Ecological Risk Assessment will
      help resource managers predict how changes
      in land use and human activity in the watershed
 will impact eelgrass growth. This will enable resource
 managers to make decisions based on more informa-
 tion. This project is co-sponsored by the USEPA's
 Office of Water and Office of Research and Development
 as an  effort to bring the science of risk assessment
 into the local community decision-making process.

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thanks the following
 for their participation in this case study:

   Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (WBNERR)
   Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod
   Cape Cod Commission
-- Citizens for the Protection of Waquoit Bay
   Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management
   Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
   National Marine Fisheries Service
   National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
   US Fish arid Wildlife Service
   Waquoit Bay Watershed Intermunicipal Committee
   US Geological Survey
   Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
   Buzzards Bay Project
   Town of Mashpee
   Town of Falmouth

 For more information, please contact
   Patti Tyler
   US EPA - Region I
,_,- 60 Westview Street
   Lexington, MA 02173
   (617) 860-4342
Maggie Geist
Waquoit Bay National
Estuarine Research Reserve
EO. Box 3092
Waquoit, MA 02536
(508) 457-0495 x!03