Salt-marsh update

Five years ago, the Lloyd Center embarked on a new venture, salt-marsh restoration monitoring, which involves surveying marshes targeted for restoration to determine their state of health and the degree to which they were responding to restoration programs. Originally funded through the Coastal Zone Management Act, originally passed by Congress to manage the nation’s coastal resources and balances economic development with environmental conservation, the Center’s work is now funded by the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, whose mission is to restore and protect the Commonwealth’s rivers, wetlands and watersheds for the benefit of people and the environment.

Members of the Lloyd Center’s research staff and dedicated volunteers have worked on marshes in Dartmouth (Nonquitt, Round Hill, Cow Yard), Mattapoisett, Somerset, Fairhaven (West Island) and Martha’s Vineyard (Farm Pond). Other than the one at Round Hill, which served as a healthy “reference” marsh, all the salt marshes have suffered from faulty culverts which reduced tidal flows and ultimately the marshes’ ecological integrity. The most notable and visible impacts are the vast fields of phragmites (tall common reed) that invade salt marshes when salinity drops and freshwater from various sources takes hold. In addition to hydrology and salinity research, studies of nekton (aquatic animals that are able to swim and move independently of water currents, as distinct from plankton) and avifauna (birds of a particular region, habitat or geological period) are also undertaken at each site.

Two of the marshes, Somerset and West Island, are of particular interest, in that the Lloyd Center has monitored them for the longest period. These sites are scheduled for important post restoration data-collection next year. Restorative work was carried out at the marsh in Somerset, a complex mix of salt-marsh and freshwater vegetation resulting from years of a small culvert and management of the site as a winter hockey rink. Phragmites treatments were used to speed the process, and help return the marsh to its natural condition. While the West Island marsh is less impacted by residential development, it has been negatively impacted by a restricted culvert for many years and now suffers from the extensive growth of phragmites. This site benefits from restoration efforts there in 2011, and it is hoped that it, too, will return to its historically ‘healthy’ natural condition.

Salt marshes are unique landscapes with unique assemblages of wildlife. Salt-marsh habitat, even without roads and culverts, is considered at high risk due to sea-level rise. The Lloyd Center’s research department is therefore collecting critical data from the standpoint of restoration and biodiversity conservation. Volunteers are invited to help the Center save the marshes in 2013, when volunteer opportunities for this work resume, and post-restoration monitoring of these sites continues.