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Salt Marshes in Peril


Faces Behind the Delta


by Linda Stonehill

You’ve likely seen pictures of Long Island Sound’s salt water marshes — tall grasses fringing the Sound like lashes rimming an eye. These high grasses, their roots burrowed deep into centuries-old peat, shelter birds such as egrets, Ospreys, and swallows. They also filter sediment and runoff before it enters the Sound and help buffer the coast against storm surges.

Beyond the high grasses, where water and earth mingle, shorter grasses fill the low marshes. Grasses of the low salt marsh need the tide to top them just a bit to survive — by a centimeter or so, and no more.

Unfortunately, the Sound’s salt marshes are threatened by the impacts of climate change — including rising seas that can drown them. So The Nature Conservancy is studying different scenarios to see what may be done to preserve the Sound’s special salt marsh habitat.

Marshes On the Move

Fortunately, tidal marshes do migrate, and the Conservancy has partnered with the University of Connecticut to develop a way to forecast where they might go. Mark Hoover, a graduate student of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, used this method to predict how eight of Connecticut’s salt marshes and adjacent landscape flora would respond to sea level rise under different scenarios.

The study cautions that our salt marshes cannot migrate inland where swathes of shoreline have been developed. While salt marsh now extends up the Connecticut River to Essex, with current levels of development, it’s likely that by 2100 all existing salt marsh in the Connecticut River will have drowned.

But, with your help, the Conservancy can protect more upland areas from development so that these marshes have somewhere to go. And we’re proactively identifying where conservation along Connecticut’s coast can help the most. Earlier this year, the Conservancy and the Department of Environmental Protection protected more of the vulnerable shoreline by expanding the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area to more than 1,060 contiguous acres of coastal forest, tidal marsh and grassland habitat. With the support of our members, we can do even more to ensure the survival of our salt marshes.

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