Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bringing A Salt Marsh Back To Life

Workers dig small creeks to
drain water off the marsh

FROM THE FIELD

By Wenley Ferguson

The salt marsh just inland of “RISD” beach in Barrington was the site of a marsh restoration project this past fall in collaboration with Rhode Island School of Design, the Coastal ResourcesManagement Council, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). The project was initiated because a pipe located under a footpath had been clogged with sand most likely deposited from past storms, trapping water in the upper marsh. Damage to the marsh was twofold: the water caused the marsh plants to die off, and the weight of the water caused the marsh to sink. 

Though salt marshes may naturally flood during high tides, marsh soil begins to break down when water cannot drain off of it. Four acres of the marsh that was once teeming with plant life had become open water.

Over the course of four days last October, Al Gettman, DEM’s Mosquito Abatement Coordinator, maneuvered an excavator to clear out the creeks and pipe. Volunteers from Save The Bay lent a hand using shovels to dig small creeks in marsh areas that were not stable enough for an excavator. Once the pipe was cleared of sand and debris, it took just one outgoing tide for the trapped water to drain from the marsh. A new opening for the creek was also excavated where the marsh empties into the Bay.
Clearing the blocked drainage pipe

Barrington Beach is an ever-changing barrier. The mouth of the creek had migrated westward by 260 feet since 1995, preventing the marsh from fully draining at low tide. As the barrier beach continues to move inland, this type of marsh adaptation project may help it to adapt to sea level rise.


Once the “plumbing” of the marsh was adjusted, beach grass was planted on a small sand dune that was created to prevent moon tides from flowing into the marsh via the footpath. Save The Bay plans to plant additional beach grass plants in 2014.