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December 17, 2018 - The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) is pleased to announce that it has been awarded Priority Project designation status from the Baker-Polito Administration’s Department of Fish and Game, Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) for an innovative salt marsh restoration project in the Great Marsh on the North Shore of Massachusetts.
Titled “Saving the Great Marsh: Ditch Remediation, Habitat Preservation and Resiliency Building at the Landscape Scale,” the project seeks to bring together multiple stakeholders to pilot innovative methods for restoring saltmarsh habitat in the face of sea level rise at its Old Town Hill Reservation in Newbury, as well as two additional Trustees sites located in the Great Marsh in Essex and Ipswich. The goal of the restoration is to fortify over 300 acres that serve as a key environmental buffer, protecting the neighboring communities and precious habitat. Last summer, The Trustees was awarded a $15,740 MassBays grant to support the critical first phase of this long term ditch remediation project to restore salt marsh in the Parker River Estuary, targeting 85 acres of salt marsh at Old Town Hill Reservation.
“We are honored to receive this special designation by the Commonwealth to pursue an innovative and vital coastal project that will have a measurable benefit for many communities and coastal habitats for years to come,” says Barbara Erickson, Trustees President and CEO. “We look forward to working with the Division of Ecological Restoration on this multi-year project to protect this resource.”
Salt marshes are not only a significant coastal resource for wildlife habitat and flood protection, but they are also the spawning and nursery grounds for sea life that supports our local seafood economy. The vast majority of the Great Marsh has been degraded and placed at-risk by widespread historic ditching, especially for mosquito control and agricultural purposes that occurred throughout the Northeast until the first half of the last century. The Great Marsh is the largest salt marsh ecosystem north of New York and spans more than 20,000 acres from Cape Ann to the New Hampshire border.
“The Trustees protects 15% of the Great Marsh, so receiving Priority Project status with the Division of Ecological Restoration makes The Trustees eligible for DER grant funding and technical assistance to support this important restoration,” adds Tom O’Shea, Trustees Director of Coast and Natural Resources. “We look forward to working with the DER to realize the project’s full potential in protecting coastal marsh habitats for the future.”
The Trustees will seek funding and technical assistance to restore salt marsh habitat degraded by historic ditching and flooding from sea level rise and to improve the overall short and long-term health and resiliency of the salt marsh at a landscape scale. The project is initially estimated to take three to five years to complete.
Using an innovative, technique that has, to-date, only been piloted on a very limited basis, The Trustees has the potential to reverse the degradation of this critical marsh land. Restoration will help the marsh to more effectively keep pace with sea level rise and to serve as a buffer to adjacent uplands from storm surge, while also continuing to provide habitat for species that rely on the salt marsh for their livelihood.
“We hope to replicate this technique at multiple locations in the Great Marsh, demonstrating the viability of this strategy,” adds Russ Hopping, Trustees Ecology Program Director. “This scaling up is essential if places like the Great Marsh are to survive the negative effects from climate change.”
By restoring natural marsh hydrology, The Trustees hope to see a stabilization, if not an increase of species that are dependent on the high marsh along the coast. The salt marsh sparrow, for example, depends on high marsh habitat, but some experts believe the salt marsh sparrow is at-risk. The Great Marsh is one of the most crucial habitats for the species in New England and East Coast. When species like the salt marsh sparrow flourish in coastal areas like this, it is indicative of the overall health of the habitat.
“We look forward to working with The Trustees who oversee so many coastal habitats and have been so forward thinking in their work to protect these vital natural resources,” said DER Director Beth Lambert. “As a partner on this project, DER will use our extensive expertise in salt marsh ecology and restoration to help the team pilot and evaluate innovative restoration techniques that target the legacy impacts of historic salt marsh ditching. We hope that this work will be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of restoration treatments that enhance marsh health and increase its resilience to sea level rise caused by climate change.”
Earlier this year, The Trustees worked closely with the Town of Ipswich to apply for a Coastal Resilience grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and was awarded a $156,155. The funds are currently being used to develop plans for nature-based, green infrastructure approaches to help protect Argilla Road – a key access point to Crane Beach which is visited by more than 350,000 people each year -- from increased flooding and other climate change impacts. Scheduled to be complete by June 30, 2019, the process will ultimately inform the final adaptation project for this important site.
With 120 miles of coastline in its care, second after the Federal Government, and 37 coastal sites, The Trustees, in partnership with The Woods Hole Group, conducted an extensive coastal vulnerability assessment (CVA) in 2017 which underscored and highlighted the accelerated vulnerability of this essential road and the surrounding landscape to climate change impacts. The CVA was the first of its kind and scale to be conducted by a conservation organization.