Barrington salt marsh is on the mend

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Nature got a helping hand recently as restoration experts descended upon RISD Beach, just west of Barrington Town Beach, to make changes to the tidal marsh lands and improve the flow of saltwater in the important ecological area.

Wenley Ferguson, restoration specialist at Save The Bay, and her team were at the upper Narragansett Bay beach recently to make improvements to the area that over the years has become an unhealthy environment for natural marsh grasses that are an important part of the ecosystem.

“This is a dynamic barrier beach and over the years a culvert became clogged and after particularly high tides water would become trapped and the standing salt water degraded vegetation,” Ms. Ferguson said.

She said plants can’t grow in standing water, especially water with a high amount of salinity and a good portion of marsh grasses has died off.

The project, which is an adaptation and restoration effort, is a partnership with the Coastal Resource Management Corporation (CRMC), RISD, Rhode Island Department of Environmental management (RIDEM), the Army Corp. of Engineers and Save The Bay.

The need to restore the marsh was identified a few years ago when Save the Bay held their “Beach Slam” celebration at the RISD Tillinghast Farm and experts observed the degradation of the marsh due to standing water. Funding for the project is from the CRMC Habitat Restoration Trust Fund.

“We identified this project a few years ago and then again it became obvious when we did a salt marsh evaluation last year. This project is simpler than others because of the positive response from land owners. We approached RISD and they were on board from the start,” Ms. Ferguson said.

Two excavators moved sand and other marsh soil and cleared the culverts as well as moved some existing creeks to allow better flow of saltwater in and out of the marsh.

“Looking at aerial maps from 1990 we can see that there has been about 3 inches of sea level rise. We can’t change the rise in sea levels but we can make a healthier environment and help the marsh to be as healthy as possible in light of that sea level rise,” she said.

Hopes are that the marsh soil will regenerate in the next year and the area will become a feeding location for migratory birds and a breeding area for a variety of marine creatures.

Volunteers are needed to help plant beach grasses at RISD Beach. If interested, call volunteer coordinator July Lewis at Save The Bay at 272-3540 ext. 130 or e-mail July at jlewis@savebay.org.

— By Joan D. Warren

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