For the Grand Marais, a restoration project is still growing
“We’re thrilled,” said Russ Hopping, senior coastal ecologist for The Trustees, a statewide nonprofit land conservation group that works with the Essex County Greenbelt on the project.
“The grant allows us to work at the scale that the marsh needs to survive in its healthiest form,” he said, adding that in addition to preserving critical habitat, a sustainable marsh “helps go a long way in protecting coastal communities from flooding and storm surges ”.
By using a natural, low-impact material – loosely braided layered salt marsh hay – administrators hope the marsh can rebuild itself over time and become more resilient to climate change.
The Trustees and Greenbelt have teamed up to raise $ 2 million needed to match the grant,
The project, which now includes previous state, federal, and trustee funds, now worth around $ 4 million, marks the largest ecological restoration effort in the 130-year history of The Trustees and the one of the largest restoration projects of its kind in Massachusetts. .
The Trustees own 15 percent of the Great Marsh Ecosystem Area, which spans approximately 20,000 acres from Cape Ann to the New Hampshire border.
“Research indicates that by 2070 the marshes will not be able to keep pace with sea level rise,” Hopping said. Citing an indicator of the precarious health of the marshes, he said the population of salt marsh sparrows – a species seen only on the east coast – is declining by 9% per year.
In each of the project areas, the restoration will take three years, followed by two years of follow-up.
The restoration was launched in April 2020 at the Trustees’ Old Town HIll plot in Newbury. This fall, he is expected to start at three other Trust sites – Crane Reservation, in Ipswich; Crane Wildlife Refuge and Stavros Reserve, both located in Essex; and a state wildlife management area at Newbury.
Set to begin in 2022, work funded by the new grant includes 689 acres owned by the trustees, 141 acres owned by Greenbelt and 86 acres of state-owned land.
Greenbelt President Kate Bowditch said that as one of the four largest landowners in the Great Salt Marsh, her organization has a keen interest in preserving the marsh, but is delighted that they can now help innovate strategies for its restoration – and educate the public on the job.
“For centuries people thought the swamp was worthless or even a nuisance, a place covered in mosquitoes,” she said. “A lot of people don’t appreciate how much of an asset this is.”
Hopping said New England farmers for centuries have built ditches in the Grand Marais to replace natural streams, allowing for faster drainage of water. The practice ended in the early 1900s, but from the 1930s to the 1970s it was revived as a mosquito control strategy.
The ditches have eroded since then, but this has caused its own problem. In the absence of drainage and sea level rise, the marsh waters became too deep in places, preventing the growth of the grasses needed to stabilize the marsh.
The project involves harvesting salt marsh hay on site and depositing it in about half of the ditches, where it can trap tidal sediment and help rebuild swamp peat. It is hoped that the water will flow more efficiently into the remaining ditches in the marsh.
“We’re just trying to give nature a boost, using a very low risk, low impact technique that relies on nature to do most of the work,” Hopping said.
John Laidler can be reached at [email protected].