Cape Cod has 996 ponds that cover nearly 11,000 acres. Most ponds are depressions in the land's surface that were formed when glaciers left behind large pieces of ice during their retreat approximately 12,000 years ago. When these pieces of ice melted, the land above and around them collapsed forming what are called “kettle holes.”
Ponds typically lack a surface water inlet or outlet, instead steadily exchanging water to and from the adjacent groundwater. For this reason, scientists often refer to freshwater ponds as “windows into the aquifer.” Through this connection, ponds are directly linked to drinking water and coastal estuaries, as well as any pollutants that have been introduced to the regional aquifer system.
Freshwater ponds are an important part of the Cape Cod ecosystem, providing critical habitat for a variety of freshwater fish species. They also provide year-round opportunities for recreation, including swimming, boating, and fishing. In order to keep them clean and healthy for generations to come, these highly valued freshwater resources require monitoring, management, and protection.
For more than two decades, the Cape Cod Commission staff has coordinated and contributed to a wide variety of freshwater protection and water quality restoration activities. The Ponds Project Viewer provides an interactive look into past and future freshwater protection and restoration efforts on Cape Cod. The Commission has also supported the Cape Cod Pond and Lake Stewardship (PALS) program since 2000 to coordinate pond-related activities among citizen groups and a variety of organizations which include the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, the Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, the Community Foundation of Cape Cod, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the National Park Service-Cape Cod National Seashore, and the School of Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Through the PALS program annual water quality snapshots have been collected for more than 15 years at over 100 ponds across Cape Cod. This ongoing monitoring effort has provided a basis for numerous studies in greater depth, including the 2003 Cape Cod Ponds Atlas, town-wide studies of pond water quality and health, and various pond restoration projects.