DEM Receives Grant To Study Salt Marsh Adaptation Strategies

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced today that it has been awarded a $500,000 a federal research grant to lead a nation-wide study examining strategies to enhance salt marsh resilience against the effects of climate change. This two-year study being led by the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), which is managed by DEM, will evaluate thin layer sediment placement as an adaptation strategy to improve marsh resilience against rising sea levels. As part of the national effort, this study will involve eight other National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) sites across the country. The NERR system is a state-federal partnership program established between NOAA and the coastal states to preserve and protect coastal lands for long-term research and education.

While salt marshes are one of the most productive ecosystems on earth and provide important economic and environmental benefits, they are being threatened by rising sea levels. Because they exist along a very narrow elevation zone, when flooded with water for too long, or too often, they will eventually drown. In many places, increasing rates of sea-level rise are outpacing the marshes’ natural ability to adapt, negatively affecting their resiliency and the wildlife that depend on them. With this grant, researchers at the Narragansett Bay NERR on Prudence Island will evaluate how marshes respond to the addition of various amounts of sediment at different marsh elevations and compare these results to similar work being done by project partners across the country. Another important feature of the project is the use of a collaborative process that will engage end users throughout the project, helping to ensure the achievement of outcomes that meet the needs of coastal managers.

“Our marshlands are beautiful, important places that need to be protected,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “Given their location at the intersection of the land and sea, marshes are invaluable to our environment and economy: nurturing wildlife, contributing to cleaner waters, and helping to protect our infrastructure. They are also vulnerable to a changing climate and rising waters. Through our Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, we are pleased to join partners from across the nation in studying ways to safeguard these precious resources. Rhode Island continues to be at the forefront of climate action and research – a credit to the consequential work of the Reserve and many other partners. We must remain vigilant.”

This project is supported by the NERRS Science Collaborative – a NOAA-funded program administered by the University of Michigan Water Center. The primary goal of the Collaborative is to support research that informs coastal management and improves long-term stewardship of the nation’s estuaries. Established in 1980, NBNERR includes coastal lands on Prudence, Patience, Hope and Dyer Islands. The Reserve manages these valued coastal habitats for long-term sustainability and draws on local and national resources to conduct and support estuarine research and to develop tools and training for informed Bay management. The Reserve serves as a living laboratory for educational programs for all ages; it also provides access for passive public recreation, including birding, hiking, and fishing.