By Ann Luongo
Manomet Bird Observatory was founded in 1969 as a bird research organization dedicated to the conservation of nature. Located in the village of Manomet, in Plymouth, and now known simply as “Manomet,” the 501(c)(3) nonprofit group works to build science-based, cooperative solutions to environmental problems. Over the past 50 years, the organization has expanded its work into forestry and agriculture to tackle environmental conservation. In the last decade, they’ve added a sustainable economies program to improve the balance between nature and the economy.
John Hagan began his career at Manomet in 1986, when he joined the Landbird Program as a senior scientist. In 2008, he took the helm as Manomet’s third president in its 50-year history.
According to Hagan, the team has learned over the decades that nature is connected to nearly every thread in our environmental, economic, and social fabric.
“We started to see what we could accomplish by working with people who had different experiences and worldviews. Nature, and everything else, was better off. Today, we build relationships across many sectors,” he says. “Together with our broad network of partners – land managers, teachers, foresters, fishermen, farmers, community leaders, business owners, institutional investors, and the leaders of tomorrow – we’re growing widespread involvement in transforming how people manage the critical systems that support life on earth.”
The banding lab has been in operation for over 50 years, actively maintaining one of the largest datasets of landbird migration in the U.S. The lab is open April 15 to June 15 for spring migration, and August 15 to November 15 for fall migration, and is staffed by four seasonal banders, with leadership from staffers Evan Dalton and Trevor Lloyd-Evans. Fifty mist nets, across 40 acres of the property, are open from dawn until dusk, Monday through Friday (weather permitting), and banders work tirelessly to band and process data (occasionally on more than 200+ birds per day), maintain the net lanes/trails, and educate visiting groups of school children, college students, photography clubs, unannounced wanderers and hikers, etc.
“The education component of the banding lab prioritizes connecting people to nature by teaching visitors of all ages about the natural history of our area and the birds that pass through,” says Hagan. “Our staff also focuses on climate change and its effects on local ecology and how Manomet’s research plays an important role in addressing bigger climate issues.”
The banding staff, he says, gives live demonstrations and shows visitors how birds are banded and share interesting facts and anomalies about a bird’s life history. Banders also bring groups around the net lanes as part of their visit, where they can see how they capture the birds to be banded, and also draw connections between habitat types and the species that use them.
“We get anywhere between 800 and 1,200+ visitors a year from local schools throughout the South Shore, Cape Cod, and Greater Boston areas. We also attract clubs and groups from various colleges, including Tufts, UMass, Wheaton, and others. We’ve enlisted help from hundreds of volunteers and interns since 1969, from all over the U.S. and Canada and beyond.”
Manomet may be a small organization in terms of the size of its staff (30 employees), but it focuses its work where it can have measurable impact. “We view our work through the prism of four systems: natural, forest, food, and economic,” Hagan says.
“Our work in the natural system focuses on the parts of the system that are in trouble – for example, wetlands and shorebird species. We advise wetlands managers on techniques to improve habitat and we study shorebird biology, among other initiatives. We also design and implement educational programs for teachers on climate science. Our landbird conservation and banding program collects data on the birds migrating through our area, as well as educates local school groups and other visitors to connect people to nature,” he says.
Manomet’s work in the forest system focuses on managed forest landscapes and coastal watersheds, Hagan says, because they present a great opportunity for climate change adaptation and mitigation. “Under our Climate Smart Land Network (CSLN), Manomet brings timberland managers and landowners up to speed on climate science so they can put it to use in the management of their forests; the CSLN has now enrolled more than 30 million acres of forestland nationwide, which is a tremendous accomplishment.”
Hagan says that in order to meet food demands by 2050, humans will need to double production, while significantly reducing environmental impacts and resource use. “We focus our work on the food systems that use the most resources – grocery stores and agriculture. Our Grocery Stewardship program has enrolled more than 800 stores nationwide and works with grocery store managers and employees to reduce waste and energy and water use.
“We’ve also worked with New England dairy farmers to measure and manage the sustainability of their farms. We work on fisheries because per pound of protein, fish have a much lower carbon footprint than land-based animal agriculture. In Maine, we are working with shellfish harvesters to test new soft-shell clam farming methods to mitigate the effects of invasive green crabs, which are decimating many clam stocks.”
Finally, for a truly sustainable future, he says, “we need a growing economy in balance with everyone’s social and environmental needs. We work with small business owners to help them implement practical, affordable sustainability practices, which can save money and resources, and with agriculture investors to deliver a sustainability framework. As a result, they enhance their economic viability, contribute more to the social well-being of their communities, and reduce environmental impacts at the same time.”
Manomet has developed a Sustainable Economies program that it feels is critical to the work that the organization hopes to accomplish, due to its focus on engaging the for-profit sector.
“We see the for-profit sector as being the key to a sustainable 21st century,” says Hagan.
“Those of us who work in the nonprofit sector consume resources too. We all depend on the business sector for our lives and wellbeing. So, we focus on helping businesses find practical ways to use resources more efficiently. Usually we save them money in the process. Everybody wins. Moreover, diminishing resources can place businesses at risk.” Savvy investors, he adds, are asking hard questions about long-term sustainability of their investment portfolio.
Making sustainability as routine as a business’s financial and operational systems will become standard practice, because it will be smart business, he says.
Hagan also adds one key component that is a focus of Manomet is its work with the next generation, to prepare them for the challenges they will face. “Our U360 internship, which is part of our Sustainable Economies program, is doing great work with college students to give them the environmental and business education they’ll need in their future careers, as well as the soft skills to succeed.”
Hagan invites any small business owners interested in learning about sustainability to connect with Manomet’s U360 program and have a conversation with these college students.
“I think that you will find talking with these students about sustainability and your business to be an inspiring experience. And, on May 3, in Boston, we’ll be hosting our second annual Business Student Sustainability competition, where you can see these students in action. It’s a wonderful event, with opportunities to network, and all are invited!
“To me, Manomet is an idea – a fresh and refreshing idea. Manomet treats the world as a hopeful place, as an interconnected web in which we find the good in people,” says Hagan.
“Through our science, humility, integrity, and respect for others, we gain strength as more people want to work on creating a sustainable world. By greeting the world openly, we make it possible for everyone to participate in their own way.”
During the course of the year, Hagan says, the organization has many opportunities for those in our community to connect with Manomet.
“Our scientists can often be found presenting at events throughout the South Shore, the Cape, and Boston; we host classes and family events on our campus several times throughout the year and are planning on opening up educational trails on our property shortly for all to enjoy. We are working to make a better world – starting right here.”
Changing the world, one step at a time: Manomet has been pursuing economic conservation for 50 years
By Ann Luongo