By Bruce Berman
The late US District Court Judge A. David Mazzone, who oversaw the Boston Harbor case for nearly 20 years, often said that he measured the success of the Boston Harbor cleanup not by the “number of feet” you could see into the water, but by the “pairs of feet” he saw on the region’s public beaches on a hot summer day.
Because we believe that the best way to “save the harbor” is to create new environmental stewards by “sharing the harbor” with the public, for more than 30 years Save the Harbor/Save the Bay has embraced Mazzone’s metric as one true measure of our success. We are certainly proud that in 2019 our free Youth Environmental Education programs served more than 35,000 primarily low-income kids and families, and our free beach programs brought more than one million people to the region’s public beaches.
However, this year we are confronting the most serious public health crises to affect our nation since the influenza epidemic of 1918. Under these circumstances, Mazzone’s metrics – and large public beach events and programs – are simply not appropriate.
Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh have wisely cancelled large public gatherings until at least Labor Day. Many of our youth program partners have suspended their public programs to protect their staff and the public’s health. Though our program planning and policy work continues by teleconference and Zoom, our office on the Fish Pier is closed, for now.
Instead of bringing thousands of kids and their families on free harbor tours and tens of thousands of people to free concerts and beach festivals from Nahant to Nantasket this summer, we are planning for a virtual summer on Boston Harbor.
Today we are working closely (albeit remotely) with our legislative and community partners at the Metropolitan Beaches Commission, in the Baker/Polito Administration, and the City of Boston to encourage social distancing and discourage gatherings on the beaches we have worked so hard to restore, protect and share. Working together, we intend to draw a clear line in the sand to reduce the social spread of the coronavirus and keep our beaches safe and open.
All of us at Save the Harbor/Save the Bay love the beach. We also understand the importance of access to healthy blue and green open spaces like public beaches and parks to the region’s residents, especially now with opportunities for recreation limited as the weather warms and cabin fever sets in.
We appreciate the thoughtful and measured approach that the Baker/Polito Administration and the Department of Conservation has taken to permit public access to these urban natural resources during this unprecedented public health crisis.
We also know that parking restrictions, social distancing requirements and face masks will not work unless we all follow the rules and abide by the guidance. We have all seen what happened when large crowds hit the beaches in Florida and California, in some cases forcing officials to close their beaches again. We should not make these mistakes here in the Bay State.
For the past five years Save the Harbor/Save the Bay has brought acclaimed beach artist Andres Amador to Boston to work with scores of volunteers to draw huge mandalas in the sand on the region’s public beaches. His work lasts for just a few hours, before being washed away by the tide.
This year we won’t be drawing mandalas on the beach together. Instead, we need you to help us draw a line in the sand to turn the tide on the COVID-19 pandemic and keep our beaches safe and open. Wear a face mask to protect yourself and others. Don’t gather on the beach with people who are not part of your household. Proper social distancing requires a 12-foot diameter circle between you and other beachgoers.
When this crisis has passed, each of us will ask ourselves “What did I do personally to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of the virus?” If you love your beach and care about your community, follow the guidelines, and use good judgement and common sense. Together we can draw a line in the sand to reduce the social spread of the coronavirus, keep our communities safe and our beaches open.
Bruce Berman is Director of Strategy & Communications Save The Harbor/Save the Bay