New England Marshes Need Support

New England Marshes Need Support

Scientists at the Wells and Great Bay Reserves monitor a marsh in Maine’s Webhannet Estuary

New England salt marshes are losing the battle to sea level rise, according to a regional study led by the University of New Hampshire along with four National Estuarine Research Reserves. The study presents a clear call to action for coastal land managers from Rhode Island to Maine: these ‘superhero’ habitats do so much for us—from storing carbon and reducing water pollution to protecting fisheries and mitigating the impacts of storms—and now, they need our help.

“This is critical information for coastal resource managers and decision makers, especially those who might be uncertain whether their local marshes are at risk,” says Chris Peter, research coordinator at New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve. “Our research indicates that we can anticipate even greater salt marsh loss with rising sea levels, and managers should take steps to help marshes cope.”

According to Peter, the research points to a need for resource managers to consider in-marsh restoration techniques, like boosting elevation with sediment and reducing historical ditching. Another option, when feasible, is to allow marshes to naturally migrate upslope and inland  by removing barriers and protecting adjacent land.

The study synthesized information from Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Reserve, Massachusetts’s Waquoit Bay Reserve, New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve, and Maine’s Wells Reserve. It builds on a decade-long project in which 20 Reserves are collecting long-term data on tidal marsh health in an unprecedented effort to study, compare, understand, and protect these valuable habitats. 

“This New England study is the first to use long term, on-the-ground monitoring across a region to show the vulnerability of salt marshes to sea level rise,” says Peter. 

The team analyzed salt marsh plant communities at the four Reserves. They found that, across New England, salt marshes are shrinking in response to greater flooding and an overall wetter environment. Today’s marshes cover roughly half the area of historic marshes and the region is likely to lose an estimated 60 to 90% of existing marshes in the coming century.

Marsh vegetation dies off when it cannot keep up with the frequency and intensity of tidal inundations. One monitoring location on Narragansett Bay went from being predominantly vegetated to almost barren in just five years. At other places, the plant communities are shifting to more saltwater-tolerant plants.

Researchers and volunteers monitor long-term salt marsh plots on New Hampshire’s Great Bay.

The researchers found that southern New England’s marshes are declining at a faster rate than northern New England, possibly due to the smaller tidal range, which makes rising seas proportionally more significant. 

The results from this study, made possible by the NERRS unique and systematic data-collection methods, will help to inform how decision makers protect and manage salt marshes in the face of rising seas and other climate threats.

Mindfulness & Resilience

Mindfulness & Resilience

A ‘sit spot’—a place to practice mindfulness and connect with nature—at New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve.

Whether you are staying at home or spending time in nature with safe social distance, Reserves—and the special places they protect—are here for you. During these trying times, one tool Reserves across the country are bringing to their communities is mindfulness: the practice of bringing nonjudgmental awareness to the present moment. 

Reserves such as South Carolina’s North Inlet-Winyah Bay and California’s Elkhorn Slough offer guided mindfulness videos you can follow from any place in nature, or even from home. Maine’s Wells Reserve and New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve encourage community members to develop “sit spots” by sitting in one place outside (yes, your own yard counts!) for a few minutes each day.

“No device, no book, no journal; just sit. Relax. Notice. Observe,” says Linda Grenfell, environmental educator at the Wells Reserve. “The sit spot is a basic practice for connecting with yourself and the world around you.”

Research shows that mindfulness can improve your mood, reduce anxiety, and promote physical health by improving immune response and reducing blood pressure. Done outside or with intention, it can also be a way to engage with nature. Studies show that even watching a brief nature video is a powerful way to feel awe, wonder, gratitude and reverence for nature—a connection promotes happiness, positive emotion, kindness, and other physical and mental health benefits.

During COVID-19, mindfulness is one way Reserves are helping communities connect with estuaries and promoting both environmental and human health.

Long-term, mindfulness may also support those dealing with the emotional stress of climate change. A survey of environmental professionals within the NERRS found that 80% of them regularly experience emotional burnout in their work. Many of them support communities who already face the very real impacts of a changing climate and uncertain futures. 

“”My experiences with mindfulness allowed me to see the natural world in new ways, with sharper focus, and greater appreciation,” says Steve Miller, coastal training program coordinator at the Great Bay Reserve, who has organized several mindfulness workshops. “When I use these activities with my colleagues, they become a way to reconnect us to the natural world we love and work so hard to protect.”

Mindfulness is one tool to help NERRS staff, their partners, and coastal communities rise to the challenge and be more resilient in the face of change.


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Staying Connected to Great Bay

Staying Connected to Great Bay

Photo and story courtesy Molly Dennett, a volunteer at New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve

I love the many hats I can wear volunteering at the Great Bay Resreve. I teach groups of school children who come for field trips in the fall and spring. I greet visitors at the exhibit room and facilitate exploration of our Discovery Tank. In the summer, I assist with the kayak and Baywalk programs. One of my favorite things to do is to help with research projects—biomonitoring, water sampling to test for salinity, and green crab hunts, just to name a few.

One of my favorite days on the bay was when we were water sampling at the Bunker Creek property. The tide was coming in, and we decided rather than hop (or jump or run) across the water/mud to get to the different sites, we would just walk in thigh deep water down the creek. Fortunately it was a warm day and we didn’t mind getting wet!

I miss my work at the Discovery Center. Right now we would just be getting started with the spring activities, but it has all been put on hold for now. The staff is great—sending out weekly emails to the volunteers with updates and fun tidbits of information. We even had a zoom meeting recently so we could “see” and talk to each other, and I am hoping to soon be back to work.

Molly (right) collects data in the field with University of New Hampshire researcher and Reserve partner David Burdick (left).

Left: Molly leads a group on the Reserve boardwalk. Right: At the end of a long day, Molly rests tired feet and muddy boots!

Molly joins other Great Bay volunteers on a field trip.

Molly helps to record data in the field.

Every Reserve is special. And everyone has a Reserve story to share. Why do you care about your Reserve? How has it made a difference in your life? Have a few minutes today? We want to hear your story.


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Science Connects Volunteers to Great Bay

Science Connects Volunteers to Great Bay


“Involve me and I learn.” Every year, research volunteers at New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve learn this lesson—often by getting their hands dirty and their boots muddy! In 2019, local community members donated more than 200 hours of support gathering data on water quality, saltmarsh vegetation, species diversity, and human impacts on the estuary.

In the process, these volunteers not only expanded the Reserve’s capacity to serve coastal decision-makers through critical research, they also became better-informed about the bay. Spending a summer working with a Reserve scientist is a great way to learn how migrating marshes can help to mitigate the effects of sea level rise or how rapid changes in plant and animal populations can mean trouble in an estuarine ecosystem. 

Monitoring environmental change over time is one of the best ways to contribute to  informed decisions about the long-term health of our estuaries and coasts. The Great Bay Reserve has been creating citizen scientists and advocates for our coasts, our oceans, and our planet for decades.


Time capsule unearthed for Great Bay’s 30th

Time capsule unearthed for Great Bay’s 30th

This vintage pic shows the burial of a time capsule at Great Bay Reserve in October of 1999—the capsule was unearthed this year as part of GBNERR’s 30th anniversary celebration!

The Great Bay Reserve turns 30 this year! To celebrate, staff and visitors unearthed a piece of Great Bay history during Estuaries Week—a time capsule from October of 1999. Inside was a roster of people who attended the ceremony, along with wishes for the future of Great Bay. 

The wishes were made by children who were fifth-graders in 1999. Many aligned GBNERR’s work to reduce pollution and preserve wildlife. Others are a bit harder to manage, such as 9-year-old Leah’s wish to find the Loch Ness Monster in Great Bay. (Leah, we promise if we find it, you’ll be the first to know!)

As part of the day’s celebrations, a new time capsule was buried that will be opened in 2039 for the Reserve’s 50th anniversary. Local third-graders added their wishes for the future of Great Bay to the new capsule.

Designated in 1989, the Great Bay Reserve has its roots in a group of environmental activists who mobilized to prevent the building of an oil refinery on the bay and protect the vital habitats the Reserve now conserves. It is host to a wide range of species, from oysters, lobsters, striped bass, and horseshoe crabs to migratory osprey and annually-spawning river herring.

“Our true legacy is a protected place on Great Bay that belongs to our communities,” says Cory Riley, Reserve Manager. “We all need for a place to go—to witness an eagle and osprey fight over a fish, to feel the mud between our toes, to start a journey by kayak or by intellectual curiosity. The Great Bay will always be here for that.”

One of the strengths of Great Bay Reserve is its strong investment in the future, including seeing our estuary through the eyes of children. We can’t wait to see what their wishes hold for the future!

Credit For Going Green

Credit For Going Green

The Great Bay Reserve teamed up with the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center to help communities use buffer lands to meet water quality regulations. Photo courtesy of Emily Lord.

It is a truth universally acknowledged—many things are better with buffers. These areas of natural land around wetlands and water bodies keep water clean, provide habitat for wildlife, control erosion, reduce flooding, and much more. However, until now there has not been a way for New Hampshire communities to meet water quality regulations by restoring or maintaining buffers.

In response, the Great Bay Reserve teamed up with the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center and other New England Reserves to meet this need. The outcome? Communities can look forward to getting regulatory credit for “going green” by using restored or constructed buffers as a water quality best management practice (BMP).

“We knew our communities valued buffers for different reasons, but they were not able to quantify those benefits in ways that would meet state regulatory requirements, which are focused on water quality, ” says Cory Riley, manager of the Great Bay Reserve. “They couldn’t consider buffers in the same way as ‘grey’ infrastructure BMPs. They needed incentives and a credible method to do so.”

The challenge was existing local science and data, which could not conclusively support recommendations for how to quantify a buffer’s ability to reduce pollution. Fortunately, the team had a mentor and a solid case study to show how this gap could be overcome.

“The Chesapeake Stormwater Network and their partners had faced a similar problem on Chesapeake Bay,” says Dr. James Houle from the UNH Stormwater Center. “They developed a weight of evidence approach to working with an expert panel to review existing literature and make science-based recommendations for the crediting of green infrastructure, and other pollution reducing solutions.”

Buffers around wetlands and water bodies keep water clean, provide habitat for wildlife, control erosion, reduce flooding, and much more. Photo courtesy of Emily Lord.

With a transfer grant from the NERRS Science Collaborative, the New Hampshire team ripped a page from the Chesapeake team’s book. They convened a panel of experts who were able to generate science-based recommendations for calculating the pollutant removal rate of restored or constructed buffers in development, redevelopment, restoration projects, and others involving land use change.

“The notion of keeping track of the “credits and debits” of nutrient pollution has never been more critical as the state and local communities look to improve water quality,” says Ted Diers, director of the Watershed Management Bureau at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. “These curves are a step forward and fill a gap in our knowledge. I also think that this effort will help to articulate the importance of natural and restored buffers.”

With the input of an advisory committee that engaged municipal staff, civil engineers, regulatory officials, technical assistance providers, and coastal training coordinators from the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine Reserves, the Going Green team is sharing these results throughout the region. 

“These pollutant reduction curves should help expand and enhance recognition of the essential functions that buffers provide for watershed health and good water quality in New England,” says Mark Voorhees, environmental engineer, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, region 1. “They provide water resource managers with a starting point for including credible estimates of pollutant removals for buffers as part of the full suite of management practices needed to achieve watershed pollutant reduction goals.”

The New Hampshire team also synthesized their experience with an expert panel process for other groups working at the interface of science and management to collaborate with experts to develop timely, science-based solutions to coastal environmental problems.




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