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Topographic map of Boston Harbor
Boston Harbor is a natural harbor located adjacent to the city of Boston, Massachusettsmarker. It is home to the Port of Boston, a major shipping facility in the northeast.


Since its discovery by John Smith in 1614, Boston Harbor has been an important port in American history. It was the site of the Boston Tea Partymarker as well as almost continuous backfilling of the harbor until the 1800s.

More recently, the harbor was the site of the $4.5 billion dollar Boston Harbor Project. Failures at Nut Island sewage treatment plant in Quincymarker and the companion Deer Island plant adjacent to Winthropmarker had far-reaching environmental and political effects. Fecal coliform bacteria levels forced frequent swimming prohibitions along the harbor beaches and the Charles River for many years. The City of Quincy sued the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) and the separate Boston Water and Sewer Commission in 1982 charging unchecked systemic pollution of the city’s waterfront. That suit was followed by one by the Conservation Law Foundation and finally by the United States Government, resulting in the landmark court-ordered cleanup of Boston Harbor. The lawsuits forced then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis to propose separating the water and sewer treatment divisions from the MDC, resulting in the creation of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 1985. The slow progress of the cleanup became a key theme of the 1988 U.S. presidential election as George H.W. Bush defeated Dukakis partly through campaign speeches casting doubt on the governor’s environmental record, which Dukakis himself had claimed was better than that of Bush. The court ordered cleanup continued throughout the next two decades and is still ongoing.

Before the project the water was so polluted that The Standells made a song called Dirty Water about the sorry state of the Charles River, which is still popular with Red Sox Fans, and played regularly at Fenway Park.

Since the writing of the song, the water quality in both the Harbor and the Charles River has significantly improved, and the project has dramatically transformed Boston Harbor from one of the filthiest in the nation to one of the cleanest. Today Boston Harbor is safe for fishing and for swimming nearly every day, though there are still beach closings after even small rainstorms, caused by bacteria laden storm water and the occasional combined sewer overflow.


Boston Harbor is a large harbor which constitutes the western extremity of Massachusetts Baymarker. The harbor is sheltered from Massachusetts Bay and the open Atlantic Oceanmarker by a combination of the Winthrop Peninsulamarker and Deer Islandmarker to the north, the hooked Nantasket Peninsula and Point Allerton to the south, and the harbor islands in the middle. The harbor is often described as being split into an inner harbor and an outer harbor.

Outer harbor

The outer harbor stretches to the south and east of the inner harbor. To its landward side, and moving in an anti-clockwise direction, the harbor is made up of the three small bays of Dorchester Baymarker, Quincy Baymarker and Hingham Bay. To seaward, the two deep water anchorages of President Roads and Nantasket Roads are separated by Long Islandmarker. The outer harbor is fed by several rivers, including the Neponset River, the Weymouth Fore Rivermarker, the Weymouth Back River and the Weir River.

Dredged deep water channels stretch from President Roads to the inner harbor, and from Nantasket Roads to the Weymouth Fore River. Some commercial port facilities are located in the Fore River area, an area which has a history of shipbuilding including the notable Fore River Shipyardmarker.

Harbor islands

Boston Harbor contains a considerable number of islands, 34 of which are part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Areamarker. The following islands exist within the harbor:

Two former islands, Castle Islandmarker and Deer Islandmarker, still exist in a recognizable form. Castle Island was joined to the mainland by land reclamation, while Deer Island ceased to be an island when the channel which formerly separated it from the mainland was filled in by the New England Hurricane of 1938.

Nut Island is a small former island in Boston Harbor that was joined by landfill to the Hough's Neckmarker peninsula in northeastern Quincy by the 1940s for use as the site of a sewage treatment facility.

Two other former islands, Apple Islandmarker and Governors Island, have been subsumed into land reclamation for Logan International Airportmarker.


In 1996, the Boston Globe reported that Mayor Tom Menino and MITmarker engineer Clifford Goudey were planning a program to use the great tanks on Moon Island as a fish farm or a temporary home for tuna or lobster in an attempt to implement a recirculating aquaculture system in Boston Harbor. The prices of both these fish types vary by season. The plan was to collect and store fish in the tanks and sell the fish at higher prices when they were out of season. Nothing has come of this plan to date.

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