Our Shared Seas spoke with Alison Bowden—an aquatic scientist and the Conservation Director for Rivers, Coasts, and Oceans for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Massachusetts—to explore why water quality is an important but commonly overlooked threat in marine conservation. In this interview, she talks about TNC’s work to address sewage pollution on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and discusses the implications of coastal water quality for climate resilience, commercial fisheries, and human health.

How have issues around water quality, particularly where wastewater is concerned, shown up in your work?
Nutrient pollution from sewage and stormwater is a huge issue in Massachusetts and across the Northeast United States, particularly on the coasts. There is a strong nexus between human health impacts and ecological consequences there.

On Cape Cod in coastal Massachusetts, the typical method of sewage disposal is septic systems, and most estuaries on Cape Cod have a severe eutrophication problem, largely because of those individual septic systems. Plus, all of the drinking water for those 15 towns on Cape Cod comes from a sole source aquifer. These septic systems are discharging into the groundwater in some cases, and then people take that water out as drinking water. As far as we know, conventional septic systems don’t do much for either nutrients or those contaminants. In that water there are nitrates, contaminants of emerging concern, pharmaceuticals, and other things that are quite poorly treated even by conventional sewage treatment plants and are linked to negative human health impacts.

Read the full article about marine conservation from Our Shared Seas.