Local actions alone won’t be enough to stem sea level rise and the increasing frequency of major storms. But the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s new climate action plan makes it clear that the tools to protect and adapt Island institutions like the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal and more than 3,000 acres of salt marsh are ready if the Island community is ready to step up.


After nearly 10 months of preparation and planning, MVC has unveiled The Vineyard Way, the climate action plan that outlines the key steps that the Island will have to take to adapt to the local impacts of the climate crisis. A series of public meetings next week will be followed by formal presentations to local select boards.

“[C]limate change is really the defining issue of this century. We live on an island — we are pretty much a bullseye of climate change impacts here,” said Liz Durkee, the climate change planner for the MVC. “This is really a major step forward for the Island. Now we have this blueprint for how to move forward for the next 20 years to address climate resiliency.”

The public sessions start on Monday, August 29 at 3 p.m. at the Edgartown Public Library, followed by Tuesday, August 30 at 3 p.m. at the Chilmark Library and Wednesday, August 31 at 10 a.m. at the Oak Bluffs Library. Presentations at select board meetings will happen throughout September.

The climate action plan outlines a host of immediate concerns, including: a loss of the three to five feet of land from the Island’s south shore annually due to sea level rise; an 86 per cent increase in Lyme disease rates from 2010, a product of warming temperatures encouraging larger tick populations; and an energy profile that is still highly dependent on imported, nonrenewable sources.

In order to tackle a diversity of present and future crises, the plan subdivides climate preparedness into six thematic areas, like Energy Transformation and Land Use, Natural Resources, and Biodiversity. In each area, working groups assembled by the commission have established actionable goals to address everything from salt marsh collapse to food insecurity.

“We had over 100 Island residents involved in the process in the various six working groups, all people with knowledge in the areas, in the fields,” Ms. Durkee explained.

Community partners in the working groups and the MVC steering committee included representatives from all six Island towns as well as the Wampanoag Tribe, the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP, the Vineyard’s Brazilian community and many of the Island’s key businesses and industries.

“The Vineyard Way is a testament to the values of connectedness, commitment, and community,” Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Adam Turner wrote in the plan’s introduction.

More than 180 individual goals are laid out in the climate action plan, which vary dramatically in scale and cost. Some are as simple as gathering local conservationists for a discussion on “actions, partnerships, and priorities” moving forward. Others, such as the completion of a study on the future viability of the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal, are more bold and are set to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ms. Durkee said that the plan is meant to be a working document.

“It’s not going to sit on a shelf. It’s going to be implemented; we have leaders for each one of 180 actions,” she said.

A grant from the Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program allowed the commission to hire working group liaisons to engage with the communities and business affected by one of the plan’s thematic areas. Sam Look, the education and youth director for the Vineyard Conservation Society, was hired as the liaison for the plan’s Land Use, Natural Resources, and Biodiversity working group. She helped assemble her working group’s team alongside Ms. Durkee and Meghan Gombos, the plan’s lead facilitator.

“We were really trying to get the public and private side of things,” Ms. Look said.

Her working group included everyone from conservationists to fishermen to members of the local real estate community.

“People were great about giving their time and being willing to participate,” she added.

Ms. Look said that her working group identified three central goals that conservation work should come to address: protecting biodiversity and varied habitats, protecting freshwater resources, and “keeping people out of harm’s way.” Harm, she explained, comes when the degradation of the natural environment worsens food security and includes the presence of animal-borne diseases.

All of the working group liaisons, like Ms. Look, were hired out of the local communities in which they were already engaged.

“It’s really a locally-based plan from the ground up,” Ms. Durkee said.

For Ms. Durkee, some of the key climate-related challenges have to do with coastal flooding and challenges to the Island’s current transportation networks. She said that addressing the future coastal infrastructure imperiled by erosion is one of the plan’s most important big-ticket items.

“We need to look at ways to either regulate or, in my book, move structures out of the flood zone as the sea rises and the storm surge increases and we get more flooding,” Ms. Durkee said.

“What are we going to do about the coastal roads? Is it worth it to invest a lot of money in raising or protecting the coastal roads when we know that in the not too distant future, they’re not going to be viable?” she wondered.

In addition to larger goals, the plan outlines the small steps that individuals can start to take to address the local challenges of a changing climate. These include simple activities like planting more native fauna, engaging in community gardening, and running household energy audits to try to reduce dependence on nonrenewable sources.

“A lot of what we need to do has to do with educating the community about things that they can do to help us become a more resilient Island,” Ms. Durkee said.

The Vineyard Way: Connected to Our Past, Committed to Our Future, is online at thevineyardway.org.