Growing up on Tisbury Great Pond in the early ’90s, Ollie Becker spent his summer days on the water. He would sail and row around the pond, sticking his head over the edge of the boat to watch the bottom pass by. Stones, mud, sand, grasses, crabs, and shellfish — all gliding by beneath him.
In 2018, Ollie returned to the Island from Los Angeles to help launch a production company with the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF). He’d go for walks along the shores of ponds with Thomas Bena, the founder of MVFF, and noticed that the bottom of the pond he had spent years curiously observing had changed. A thick blanket of brown algae clouded the ever-changing texture of sand, mud, and stone he had grown up with, and aquatic life was suffering. Becker and Bena pondered these changes, and decided it was time to take action.
“If the pond could change this much in my lifetime, what would it look like for my daughter and the next generation if we don’t act now?” Becker said to us.
Last summer’s cyanobacteria counts only underscored Becker’s concern that the health of the ponds were in jeopardy, and that he should make a film to describe the issues to Islanders. However, he soon realized the issues facing the ponds were too multifaceted and dynamic for a single film. After speaking with more Islanders, Becker shifted to working on a series that could explore the various factors for degradation and track preservation efforts.
In September 2020, Becker launched his documentary series on the Island’s great ponds. The ongoing project seeks to celebrate the rare ecology of the Vineyard’s ponds while examining their recent decline and documenting various restoration efforts. The first film of the series is currently in production, and has contributions from concerned citizens, riparian owners, the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation, and the Mass Cultural Council.
The Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) partnered with Becker to co-produce the film in October. Acting as scientific advisors, the VCS helped Becker network with the larger Island conservation community to understand the underlying issues of the ponds. The VCS’s role was a combination of strategy and storytelling, said Jeremy Houser, an ecologist with the VCS. Organization staff worked as interview subjects in the film, helped narrow the project’s themes and central message, and aided with advocacy strategy. The Great Pond Foundation has also supported the project as subject-matter experts.
In April of this year, the Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellowship awarded Becker a two-year grant to continue his work on the documentary series. The Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellowship is a nonprofit organization that awards financial support for emerging Island leaders and changemakers. Becker was one of 16 recipients this year for his project, a call-to-action series he hopes will inspire tangible changes on the Island.
“The fellowship means everything to the project,” said Becker. “We now have the ability to just really hit the gas on this project, and move forward without any hesitation.”
With the help of the Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellowship award, Becker aims to give Vineyarders an appreciation for the rich human history of the ponds, as well as actionable steps to reduce nitrogen in the Island’s pond ecosystems, such as reducing their fertilizer use or updating their septic systems. His greatest hope, however, is to bring attention, money, and resources to organizations such as VCS, the Great Pond Foundation, and the M.V. Shellfish Group, which are dedicated to restoring the health of our ponds.
“What Ollie is doing is really special, because anybody who has spent time on a great pond really understands it’s magic,” Emily Reddington, the executive director of the Great Pond Foundation, told Bluedot Living. “It’s a unique ecosystem. It’s rare, it’s precious, and through visual storytelling, Ollie is capturing that magic and sharing it with a broader audience.”