Northeast Coastal Areas Study
Significant Coastal Habitats
Site 33 (RI, MA)
I. SITE NAME: Rhode Island Sound - Buzzards Bay Beach Complex
II. LOCATION: This coastal ponds/barrier beach complex is located along the shore of Rhode Island Sound in southeastern Rhode Island and the contiguous areas to the east along the western shores of lower Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts.
TOWNS: Little Compton, Dartmouth
COUNTIES: Newport, Bristol
STATES: Rhode Island, Massachusetts
USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: New Bedford South, Mass 41070-58; Sakonnet Point, RI 41071-42; Westport, Mass-RI 41071-51; Tiverton, RI-Mass 41071-52
USGS 30x60 MIN QUADS: Block Island 41071-A1; Providence 41071-E1; New Bedford 41070-E1
III. GENERAL BOUNDARY: The general boundary area is delineated on the accompanying map and incorporates the entire Rhode Island Sound and lower Buzzards Bay shoreline from Sakonnet Point at the western edge of the complex in Rhode Island eastward to Slocums Neck and Barneys Joy Point at the eastern boundary in Massachusetts. Included are Long Pond, Briggs Marsh, Tunipers Pond and Quicksand Pond in Rhode Island, as well as associated barrier beaches (Briggs Beach, Goosewing Beach and South Shore Beach), and Richmond Pond, Westport Harbor/River, The Let and Allens Pond, including associated beaches of Horseneck and Little Beach. The primary areas needing protection are Quicksand, Tunipers, and Allens Ponds.
IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTED STATUS: In the Rhode Island section of this complex, almost all of the land is privately-owned residential property, with the exception of the Town-owned South Shore Beach. Three large ownerships account for close to half the shoreline of Quicksand Pond and one of these (the Truesdale Farm) also accounts for the entire eastern shore of Tunipers Pond. The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, and the local Land Trust own lands in this area and are in the process of securing conservation easements on additional lands around both ponds. In the Massachusetts section, there are large areas of State-owned parks and reservations, but other areas, particularly in the Allens Pond area, are privately-owned by multiple private individuals. The Massachusetts Audubon Society owns 70 acres (28 ha) at the west end of Allens Pond and holds conservation restrictions on several hundred acres at Barneys Joy. There are presently a number of summer cottages on the barrier beaches.
V. GENERAL HABITAT DESCRIPTION: Most of the ponds (technically lagoons) in this complex, such as Quicksand Pond, are coastal salt ponds separated from the open waters of Rhode Island Sound or Buzzards Bay by a narrow, wave-washed sand or gravel beach with a series of vegetated dunes dominated by beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) and seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens). A breachway (inlet) opens periodically and provides some tidal flushing. The habitat areas are very diverse ranging from freshwater red maple (Acer rubrum) swamps in the inland uplands and agricultural fields to mud flats and salt marshes along the shores. The salt pond at Allens Pond is surrounded by one of the largest unprotected salt marshes in Massachusetts. Uplands on Slocums Neck have shrubby grasslands, the habitat of several species of grassland birds.
VI. SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF AREA: Quicksand and Tunipers Ponds form one of the most scenic and undisturbed coastal areas in Rhode Island. They provide valuable habitat for finfish, shellfish, waterfowl, and shorebirds. Fish species include winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus), perch (Perca spp.), American eel (Anguilla rostrata), soft-shelled clam (Mya arenaria), hard-shelled clam or quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria), and American oyster (Crassostrea virginica). Waterfowl residents and migrants include Canada geese (Branta canadensis), canvasback (Aythya valisineria), American black duck (Anas rubripes) and scaup (Aythya affinis, A. marila) in what has been called one of the most significant migratory waterfowl concentration sites of New England. Of considerable interest, the beaches along most of this shoreline complex are regionally important nesting areas for the U.S. Threatened piping plover (Charadrius melodus) and these areas are likely to be proposed as critical habitats for this species. The nesting population of piping plover at Goosewing Beach is the largest concentration in Rhode Island. Least and common terns (Sterna antillarum and S. hirundo, respectively) nest at several locations. At least 30 species of shorebirds, including the American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), and spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia) are reported to nest in the eastern portion of this complex, particularly around Allens Pond and the Westport River. About 25 species of migratory sandpipers use the mud flats at low tide. There are regionally significant breeding populations of seaside sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus) and sharp-tailed sparrows (Ammodramus caudacutus) in the Allens Pond salt marsh. Dozens of land bird species use the thickets around the edges for migratory stops. Other species of note in the area include large concentrations of nesting osprey (Pandion haliaetus), New England blazing-star (Liatris borealis), northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), Northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys t. terrapin) and sea-beach knotweed (Polygonum glaucum). In fact, this is the only mainland nesting site of northern harrier in southern New England. There are historical records of both sea-beach pigweed (Amaranthus pumilis) and sandplain gerardia (Agalinis acuta), a U.S. Endangered species, in this area. The rocks off Sakonnet Point are used by harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) for hauling out.
VII. THREATS: Approximately half of the shorelines on Quicksand Pond and almost all on Tunipers Pond are undeveloped. A large holding, the 75 acre (30 ha) Truesdale Farm, which spans both ponds, will soon go on the market. Adjoining this farm to the north are two other large ownerships whose development would have a serious impact on the pond's resources. In addition, recreational pressures on Goosewing Beach create a threat to the nesting shorebirds. Barrier beaches and sandplain grasslands are both vulnerable to development pressures and over-use by recreational vehicles: rare species habitats and nesting birds can be severely disrupted by intense human use. This area is particularly vulnerable due to its multiple private ownership and heavy recreational use.
VIII. CONSERVATION CONSIDERATIONS: Protection of this area, particularly Allens Pond, Quicksand Pond and Tunipers Pond, is of high priority. The pond and beach nesting areas should be completely protected from disturbance, and conservation restrictions placed on as much of the already lightly developed portions of the pondshores as possible. The few large undeveloped properties on Quicksand and Tunipers Ponds should be considered for purchase in fee or through the purchase of development rights by private conservation organizations already active in this area to ensure a continued variety of habitats and to reduce human pressures on the ponds and adjacent beaches. Protection and management of the entire shoreline length of this complex should be sought as a means of ensuring the long-term survival of beach-nesting bird populations in this general area. The management of small populations of species such as terns and piping plovers, which are extremely prone to local extinction as a result of internal and external factors, requires the protection of many sites in relatively close proximity to each other (at least within the local movement abilities of the species) as part of an overall metapopulation species conservation strategy. With the addition and protection of the specific areas indicated in this complex, protected habitat of coastal species would be much more continuous and extensive, which would serve to contribute to greater population viability and recovery potential, particularly for colonial beach-nesting birds. Special emphasis should be placed on implementing objectives and tasks outlined in the recovery plan for piping plover. Identification, delineation and protection of main feeding areas should be given high priority for beach-nesting birds including the development of management plans. Several sites may require restoration to enhance their suitability as nesting sites, such as dredge spoil deposition and vegetation control. Gull removal may need to be considered at certain sites where this is determined to be a significant problem. Protection of specific beach sites can be accomplished by a variety of mechanisms including cooperative management and conservation agreements, conservation easements, zoning, planning, land-use regulations and, in some instances, acquisition.
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