ROCKPORT — Curious neighbors flocked to Millbrook Pond this weekend to witness the relocation of the pond’s eels, fish and turtles in anticipation of its potential dredging next month.
The Millbrook Meadow Committee and the Rockport Department of Public Works hope to have a final contract in place for selectmen to approve at their meeting Sept. 19. The dredging would be done from October to December of this year.
Eric Hutchins, a NOAA Fisheries restoration biologist, and Rick Roth, executive director of Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team, led the charge Saturday in moving the wildlife upstream to the significantly larger Loop Pond. Members of the crowd craned their necks to see the experts retrieve traps from the water, took turns holding turtles, and snapped pictures of the baby eels in their bucket.
“Today is a little bit of stewardship and a little bit of education,” Hutchins said. “We’re here to get people to understand more about the eels, but we’re also here to do a job.”
He took the opportunity to explain most American eels caught in the pond are babies, measuring only 3 to 4 inches in length, that were born in the Sargasso Sea and swam up the East Coast to Rockport. “Then, they made their way up the stream, and they live in either Mill Pond or Loop Pond for 20 to 30 years before out-migrating again back to the ocean, spawning, and dying,” he explained. “That’s their life cycle.”
“They’re ecologically important,” he added, rattling off a long list of animals that rely on eels as food, including osprey, otters, and herons.
As for the turtles, each time Roth lifted one from a net, he held it out for onlookers to see, calling out its species and size before using a file to create notches in the turtle’s shell for tracking.
“If there’s one thing I’m qualified for, it’s measuring turtles,” said Roth, who has a background in carpentry. “Turtle No. 1 is 3 and 7/8ths inches.”
Two Boy Scouts at his side hurriedly took down the measurement. By recording the species, length, and number of each animal for Hutchins and Roth, the Scouts get one step closer to earning their World Conservation Award.
Curtis Sarkin of Kestrel Education Adventures helped with opportunities for the public to observe, touch, or hold the growing number of turtles, and eels, as well as a catfish. “Because the pond is being dredged, the wildlife would be threatened with being destroyed in the process. By relocating them, we’re providing them with a different habitat, where they’ll be safe during the process,” he said.
While the start date for the dredging of Millbrook Pond has changed several times, the Millbrook Meadow Conservancy has not wavered in its commitment to the project. “Dredging of the pond is necessary because it has nearly filled with sediment,” Millbrook Meadow Committee Chairman Samuel Coulbourn said. “The sediment threatens to fill in the pond, as cattails can grow in mud that is close to the water surface. Once the pond is filled with mud and cattails, it reverts to wetland, and a historically valuable Rockport asset is no more.”
Until recently, a lack of money threatened to delay the dredging until 2018.
“Basically, we had five bids for the project, and the lowest bid was a little bit more than what we had for funding,” said Joseph Parisi, Rockport’s director of Public Works. “We had $600,000, and it came in at $631,000, plus we have to do some landscaping around the pond after the work is done.”
When the Millbrook Meadow Committee voted to release $50,000 of additional funding in a grant to the town, a fall 2017 start date seemed within reach. “We have enough to move forward,” said Parisi, “but just barely enough.”
Parisi is working through the final details of a contract with SumCo Eco-Contracting of Salem, and will present it to selectmen for approval on Sept. 19.
If approved, the project will remove 5,000 square feet of cattails, mainly on the western side of the pond, as well as dredge the pond's sediments.
"We hope that this will really help with slowing down the growth of the cattails, but also make a better ecosystem for the wildlife — the turtles and fish — that are in the pond, as well," Parisi said.
Abigail Bliss may be contacted at 978-675-2708 or firstname.lastname@example.org