Battle With The Sea: Helping Salt Marshes Adapt To Rapidly Rising Seas

Courtesy of Rhode Island Public Radio
By: Ambar Espinoza / RIPR

Rhode Island is losing salt marshes at an alarming rate. Scientists and coastal planners say this is one of the most pressing climate change impacts already facing the Ocean State. Salt marshes are critical fish and wildlife habitats that support the state’s fishing and tourism industries. As part of our Battle With The Sea series, we’re taking you to two marshes to learn what the state is doing to help them adapt to rapidly rising seas.

On any given day, Round Marsh in Jamestown would be relatively quiet, with birds and other wildlife teeming within its grasses and mudflats.

Al Gettman, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management mosquito abatement coordinator, operates a small excavator for a salt marsh adaptation project.

Al Gettman, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management mosquito abatement coordinator, operates a small excavator for a salt marsh adaptation project. Credit Ambar Espinoza / RIPR

But on this day, a small industrial machine designed to scoop out mud travels back and forth across a stable section of the marsh. Save the Bay’s restoration coordinator Wenley Ferguson said this excavator is digging a creek to help drain excess water off the marsh.

“So right now our goal is we’re kind of fixing the plumbing of the marsh,” said Ferguson.

A little further down the coast in Narragansett, Caitlin Chaffee, stands near another marsh along the Narrow River. “So we’re basically where the Pettaquamscutt River meets the ocean at Narragansett beach,” said Chaffee.

Chaffee, a policy analyst with the Coastal Resources Management Council, said salt marshes have historically kept up with the pace of sea level rise as it grows in height by trapping silt and sediments brought in from the tides.

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