Could a Dusting of Dredge Help Marshes Survive?

Could a Dusting of Dredge Help Marshes Survive?

Photo courtesy North Carolina Reserve

As sea levels rise, marshes have two ways to move if they are going to survive. They can keep up with rising water by accumulating enough sediment to raise the elevation of the marsh surface or by migrating inland to higher and drier land.

Our North Carolina Reserve is one of eight sites to test  a new technique to help marshes at risk keep pace with sea level rise—thin-layer sediment addition.The first-ever national marsh vulnerability assessment highlighted indicated marshes at the Reserve’s Masonboro Island Reserve are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise.  The research team hopes that by adding a thin layer of sediment to the marsh surface it will be able keep up with sea-level rise.

“This project is moving us beyond the assessment phase to actively testing sediment addition as a strategy to reduce vulnerability of marshes to sea-level rise,” says Reserve Research Coordinator Dr. Brandon Puckett.

Researchers are testing two sediment thicknesses (7 and 14 centimeters) in the high and low marsh zones. After the sediment is added to the marsh surface, changes in elevation, vegetation, and soil properties will be tracked. The approach will be considered effective if it helps raise the marsh platform, while supporting a healthy marsh plant community.

Coastal managers have long needed a restoration strategy that helps marshes keep up with sea level rise.

“Reserve partners need better science and guidance for the use of sediment addition as a marsh restoration strategy,” says Puckett, “and Reserve staff are eager to test on-the-ground restoration to protect marshes from sea-level rise.”

Results from this project will not only be used by the Reserve, but also state and federal partners in North Carolina.

SWMP Data: Renewable Resource for North Carolina

SWMP Data: Renewable Resource for North Carolina

Kevin McVerry, former GIS specialist, switches out a water quality sonde. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Reserve.

At our North Carolina Reserve, System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) data is a “renewable resource” for local science and education. For 20 years, the reserve has monitored local environmental trends as part of a national initiative to track short- and long-term changes in water quality, biological systems like salt marshes, and land-use and cover characteristics along our coasts and estuaries.

Research partners from federal, state, and regional organizations incorporate this data into their work. Scientists from East Carolina University are using SWMP data to investigate the relationship between water quality and the habitat use of coastal sharks. A SWMP-like station maintained by reserve staff also supports operations at the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Wilmington Shellfish Research Hatchery and Seawater System.

The reserve partners with UNC scientists on many long-term projects. One, led by Dr. Jessie Jarvis at UNC Wilmington, explores the connection between submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and water quality conditions captured in SWMP data. The goal is to support the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries on the status and trends of SAV habitat in the state.

“SWMP collects essential water column measurements continuously in sites across the state,” Jarvis said. “When used together, observations of SAV status and SWMP water quality data can help show the cause and effect of local management practices or even highlight a new area for coastal policy makers to address. Without the SWMP data we would only have one side of the story!”

SWMP data is also integrated into the classroom to inspire the scientists of tomorrow. Masonboro Island Explorers is a coastal environmental education program for upper elementary school children conducted in partnership with New Hanover County Schools, the nonprofit, and Carolina Ocean Studies. Students use the data to understand the importance of water quality on natural processes in the estuary. Last year more than 750 fifth-graders explored SWMP data after visiting Masonboro Island.

SWMP data from North Carolina and reserves around the nation is available on the NOAA Centralized Data Management Office website. There, you can download and visualize water quality and marsh monitoring data. For more information about the North Carolina Reserve and its work, contact Communications Specialist Michelle Brodeur.

—Story by Michelle Brodeur.


Advancing the Science: NERRS Research

Advancing the Science: NERRS Research

From Around the System…
Taskinas Marsh at the Virginia Reserve

What do restoring a painting, a house, and a wetland all have in common? Setting goals for your work depends on what they used to look like. When you’re focused on restoring a wetland along a dynamic, rapidly changing coast, then that’s a tall order. In a perfect world, you would have “before” data describing the site in its pre-degradation state that you could use as a benchmark to track your progress. If you don’t, the next best approach is to compare your site to a similar one that is healthy and has not suffered the same degradation.

A recent study published in Estuaries and Coasts demonstrates the potential for National Estuarine Research Reserves to serve as “gold standard” reference sites for setting wetland restoration goals and tracking progress. Found in diverse biogeographic regions around the country, research reserves are permanently protected and continuously monitored, reducing the potential effort and cost of such a comparison.

In the study, scientists at our Rhode Island, Virginia, Maine, Oregon, North Carolina, and New Hampshire reserves teamed up with the NOAA Restoration Center to examine the progress of 17 tidal wetland restoration projects by comparing them to nine reference sites in or near reserve lands. The study used an RPI (restoration performance index) scoring approach, which compares changes in parameters at different sites over time to determine restoration progress. Restoration sites exhibited an intermediate level of restoration when compared to the reference sites, consistent with similar assessments described in the literature.

From Kachemak Bay…

Headwater streams are the birthplaces of watersheds. In Alaska’s Kenai Lowlands, site of the Kachemak Bay Reserve, these streams provide rearing habitats for thousands of paper clip-sized, juvenile salmon each year. Until recently, it wasn’t known that these critically important critters lived so far up the watershed.

Now, thanks to the reserve’s research, we know these streams are productive habitats for juvenile salmon, largely thanks to surrounding landscape features, such as alders and peatlands, that provide nutrients to the streams. The reserve is working with local organizations to conserve these features so that these streams continue to support baby salmon as they make their way to the sea and back again as adults.

You can learn more about this important research in recent publications, including:

– “Watershed Influences on the Structure and Function of Riparian Wetlands Associated with Headwater Streams – Kenai Peninsula, Alaska” in Science of the Total Environment
– “Low-level Addition of Dissolved Organic Carbon Increases Basal Ecosystem Function in a Boreal Headwater Stream” in Ecosphere
Nitrogren Subsidies from Hillslope Alder Stands to Streamside Wetlands and Headwater Streams, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.” in Journal of American Water Resources Association

Reserve scientists Steve Baird (bottom) and Chris Guo (top) monitor juvenile salmon in a small headwater stream.

NERRS Data—Protecting Your Day at the Beach

NERRS Data—Protecting Your Day at the Beach


Sunscreen and umbrella? Check. Trashy novel? Of course. Water quality monitoring data to predict whether it’s safe to swim at the beach? Well, that may not be on everyone’s packing list for the summer, but it’s an essential item for agencies that must post advisories about whether it’s safe to swim at the local beach.

Around the country, reserves maintain more than 110 water quality monitoring stations and 30 weather stations that collect data every 15 minutes. In the Southeast, this data helps public health agencies and local governments monitor bacteria levels at swimming beaches.

Recently, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control used data from the North Inlet-Winyah Bay and North Carolina reserves to develop an automated, database-driven tool that estimates bacteria levels and creates predictive visualizations that inform beach advisories. This effort will incorporate Rookery Bay Reserve data when it extends to the southwest coast of Florida this year.


Mid-Atlantic Reserves Serve up 30 Years of Fisheries Data

Mid-Atlantic Reserves Serve up 30 Years of Fisheries Data

Analysis of 30 years’ worth of larval fish samples from three research reserves is now available through

Fisheries management decisions throughout the Mid-Atlantic are benefiting from this information. It helps them expand their understanding of current conditions and changes, including the relative abundance of species and community composition.

The project also broadened the impact of the reserves’ system-wide environmental monitoring data by integrating these data with the fisheries data. For example, the two data sets together allow researchers to analyze larval winter flounder data relative to climate change.

The Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, in partnership with Rutgers University and Reserves in the Carolinas, created the portal.

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