The Alliance is actively working towards the designation of Nantucket Sound as a National Historic Landmark, safeguarding traditional uses like fishing and recreation but prohibiting industrial development. We are grateful to our Congressional delegation for supporting this effort. We have also received endorsements from the Governor of Massachusetts and the Cape Cod Legislative Delegation for the Commonwealth. You can read these letters of support here.
A National Treasure
Nantucket Sound is an environmentally sensitive body of water recognized as an irreplaceable national treasure. It should be off limits to industrial development, particularly in light of better alternative sites.
Traditional Cultural Property
In 2010, the National Park Service determined that Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as an historic and archaeological property and as a traditional cultural property (TCP). Nantucket Sound was once exposed land where the Wampanoag people traversed, fished, cultivated, interred their ancestors, and occupied. As such, the Sound has yielded, and has the potential to yield, important information about the Native American exploration and settlement of the Cape and Islands.
The National Park Service further acknowledged that both the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe on Martha’s Vineyard and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod attach religious and cultural significance to Nantucket Sound and to the larger historic district that encompasses the near shore areas of the Sound. Thus, the entirety of the waters and seabed of Nantucket Sound is a TCP.
Read the National Park Service’s determination here.
Summary of Keeper’s Determination of Eligibility
Nantucket Sound is eligible as an integral, contributing feature of a larger district, whose boundaries have not been precisely defined, under:
- Criterion A for its associations with the ancient and historic period Native American exploration and settlement of Cape Cod and the Islands, and with the central events of the Wampanoags’ stories of Maushop and Squant/Squannit;
- Criterion B for its association with Maushop and Squint/Squannit;
- Criterion C as a significant and distinguishable entity integral to Wampanoags’ folklife traditions, practices, cosmology, religions, material culture, foodways, mentoring, and narratives; and
- Criterion D for the important cultural, historical, and scientific information it has yielded and/or may be likely to yield through archeology, history, and ethnography about access to resources, patterns of settlement, mobility, and land use prior to and after 6,000 years ago as a result of the inundation of the Sound. It is also important for the significant information it provides and can provide about the cultural practices and traditions of the Native Americans of Cape Cod and the Islands in relationship with other peoples since ancient times.
National Historic Landmarks (NHL)
A National Historic Landmark is a building, district, object, site, or structure that is officially recognized by the United States government for its outstanding historical significance.
Nantucket Sound is recognized as an historic and archeological property associated with the Native American exploration and settlement of Cape Cod and the Islands. There are marine sites that have been designated National Historic Landmarks because, like Nantucket Sound, they have archeological historic significance:
Erie Canal, Montgomery County, NY
Mud Lake Canal, Everglades National Park, FL
The Huilua Fishpond, Kahana Valley, Oahu, HI
Nantucket Sound Historic Properties and Landmarks
The shorelines of the Cape and Islands are dotted with hundreds of historic properties, over 30 historic districts and the National Historic Landmarks of the Nantucket Historic District, the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, and Wesleyan Grove and the Flying Horses Carousel on Martha’s Vineyard. These historic properties include lighthouses, homes, and commercial structures and are connected to Nantucket Sound through historic and current activities, including fishing, whaling, sailing, boating, travel, shipping, or otherwise using or appreciating the waters of Nantucket Sound.
The National Park Service has described:
- The Nantucket Historic District, which includes the entire island of Nantucket, as “nationally significant both for its association with the American whaling industry, and for its remarkable concentration for well-preserved whaling industry-related architecture.”
- The Town of Nantucket as “one of the finest surviving architectural and environmental examples of an early 19th century seaport town in New England.”
Massachusetts Ocean Sanctuaries Map
History of Efforts to Protect the Sound
- In 1971, Nantucket Sound state waters (out to 3 miles) were designated as a sanctuary under Massachusetts law. However, federal waters, the “hole in the doughnut,” remained unprotected and vulnerable to development.
- In 1980, Massachusetts nominated Nantucket Sound for designation as a National Marine Sanctuary (NMS). “Nantucket Sound contains significant ecological, commercial and recreational resources that have been at the heart of several past nominations for enhanced environmental protection and conservation policies within the region. The biological diversity and unique habitat areas of Nantucket Sound led the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to nominate the area for National Marine Sanctuary status […] Nantucket Sound is a recognized habitat for many state and federally protected species, including roseate terns, piping plovers, leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, and grey seals.” — Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, MA
- In 1983, Nantucket Sound was placed on the Site Evaluation List for NMS status.
- In 2010, as part of the review of Cape Wind under the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Park Service deemed Nantucket Sound eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
- After a twenty-year hiatus, in 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reestablished the NMS nomination and designation process, creating a significant new opportunity for protecting Nantucket Sound.
- Currently, the Alliance is seeking legislation to permanently protect Nantucket Sound by designating this special place as a National Historic Landmark.