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Massive marsh planting to begin in coastal Alabama and Mississippi


An unprecedented marsh gardening project, spanning two states and utilizing the talents of many agencies, is ready to begin this spring. Headed by Dr. Just Cebrian, Senior Marine Scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, this ambitious “greening of the estuaries” seeks to establish new, or rehabilitate existing, marsh sites.

In 2002, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. This document identifies the crucial role salt marshes and submerged grasses play in the bay area and the need for their preservation and restoration. Many area organizations and agencies have similar plans which identify the importance and need to preserve estuarine ecosystems. Work such as that done by Dr. Cebrian, and collaborators including Weeks Bay and Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserves, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, and the volunteers of Gulf Shores High School, Fairhope High School, Americorps and Mississippi Power, is vital to tackling the challenges.

Saltmarshes and submerged grass beds were once dominant habitats along the Gulf Coast. Due to man-made and natural causes, these habitats have dwindled significantly. These highly valued habitats provide a multitude of functions from providing food and shelter for aquatic organisms to serving as wave attenuators and buffers for erosion control, and are thought to act as natural water purification systems. Dr. Cebrian’s research specifically will examine how black needlerush (Juncus roemerianus), a dominant plant of our coastal saltmarshes, can be restored and if the restored marshes truly act as water cleansing systems.

Planting sites will include the Grand Bay Reserve within the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Weeks Bay Reserve, and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Dr. Cebrian’s project will test what the optimal conditions are that will encourage new growth, least disturb donor sites and best filter water quality.

The first project kicks off in the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve along Bayou Heron, Mississippi during the second and third week of April. The ambitious schedule of restoration involves two days of harvesting black needlerush (Juncus roemerianus), constructing a sand wedge at the erosion site, and then transplanting the Juncus sp. to the sand wedge. The program involves the coordinated efforts of Dr. Cebrian and his students with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, staff members from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ and the Grand Bay Reserve and volunteers from Mississippi Power.

Like our backyard gardens, these restored coastal ecosystems will need the constant attention of everyone involved. Projects such as these bring together the efforts of researchers, resource managers, and educators to fulfill a vital need of a healthy coastal environment. To learn more log onto: for links to various organizations and their activities.

Lisa Young | EurekAlert!
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