2016-05-19 / Nature

Grasses Anchor Marsh Restoration

By Jack Kelly

The restoration of the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge salt marshes, which are located adjacent to the Third Beach parking lot, has entered a new phase with the plantings of various types of grasses. Earlier in the year contractors raised parts of the wetlands to a high marsh status, using 11,300 cubic yards of sand. This work was performed as part of resiliency project that will allow the marsh to better withstand strong storms and tides in the future. The project is being coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and includes a number of partners including Save The Bay, Norman Bird Sanctuary, and other conservation groups.

On a recent cool and windy morning, 13 volunteers from CVS Pharmacy, 12 Save The Bay staff members and interns, and 27 biology students from Newport’s Rogers High School planted over 6,000 marsh grass plants in the wetlands. Wenley Ferguson, Save The Bay’s restoration specialist, explained, “The CVS volunteers planted approximately 4,000 Destichlis spicata plants, also known as spike grass. It’s a high grass and extremely important to nesting sharp-tailed salt marsh sparrows. We hope to create a vibrant habitat here for this species.”

The spike grasses, which were supplied by USFWS, were planted in 30-foot circles to allow the plants to colonize a specific area. “Spike grass is a very good colonizer and sends out long roots to stabilize marsh sand,” Ferguson said. USFWS personnel and volunteers placed temporary fencing around the fresh plants to keep away Canada geese. “The geese need to run to take off, so they won’t venture inside of the fencing. If we left it open before the grasses get a chance to stabilize, the geese would feast on it,” Ferguson declared.

The Rogers students, led by their teacher Scott Dickison, brought their own marsh grass to the planting. “We collected the seeds late last September and early October as part of our curriculum at the Gooseneck Cove salt marshes. We planted the seeds in the classroom in February and raised these Spartina plants for this project, “ Dickison explained. He has been using the Gooseneck Cove marshes as a living classroom and laboratory for his students since 2004. Beginning in 2008, his young science protégés have been involved in the ongoing restoration work taking place in that system of wetlands, partnering with Save The Bay and the Audubon Society.

“Spartina stabilizes lower marsh areas because of its ability to be submerged underwater during tidal changes. It, too, colonizes well and holds sand and mud together,” Ferguson commented. The 750 Spartina plants were also set in wide 30-foot circles for colonizing and were protected with fencing.

“This is our second planting, with more to follow,” Ferguson said. “We plan on three more events with a total of approximately 22,000 plants of various salt marsh grass species, which will further promote healthy wetlands.”

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