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Critical work underway to restore coastal salt marshes

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Posted at 3:33 PM, Jun 02, 2022

WESTPORT, Mass. — Danielle Perry is working to save one of the best natural defenses to climate change— the salt marsh.

Perry is a coastal resilience specialist for the Mass Audubon Society who has spent years working to rehabilitate endangered coastal ecosystems.

"We’re expecting to get a lot more storms and higher intensity storms so having that buffer is really important to protecting infrastructure," Perry explained.

Salt marshes provide some of the best protection against hurricanes and major flooding. But rising sea levels have threatened the existence of these natural coastal barriers. Grass in the salt marshes act as a sponge, absorbing the energy of waves crashing onto the nearby shore.

"Just having a healthy marsh can protect us from flooding," Perry added.

In the last 30 years, salt marshes have declined by 42%, compromising the planet's natural ability to protect our nation's coasts.

Wenley Ferguson of Save The Bay also spends her time working to restore salt marshes.

"Marsh migration is already occurring, the coastal edge moving inland and we're losing trees. Protecting them is really important to climate mitigation," Ferguson said.

In hopes of protecting the coastal estuaries, Ferguson and Perry are deploying a new coastal restoration technique called "tunneling." They are essentially creating small trenches that drain standing water out of salt marshes and allow those critical grasses to grow back in.

The technique is incredibly simple and usually requires nothing more than a shovel or the heel of a volunteer's boot. But getting the work done while there's still time to protect marshes is critical.

"One of the things we're concerned about is if we wait too long and marshes get too degraded we have to resort to more expensive options that will be harder to fund," Perry said.

Because of how simplistic all of this is, these researchers are hoping other coastal communities can easily deploy similar "runneling" plans to help bring salt marshes back to a point of sustainbility.