How do we keep the momentum going? How do we ensure our restoration work at Thompsons Beach yields long-term, sustainable results? The answer is clear: we protect the backbone that the beach sits on -- the salt marsh behind the beach.
Historically, the marsh was farmed and hayed for salt hay or Spartina patens. The salt hay farmers impounded the marsh and diked it for hundreds of years. The farming effort was abandoned mostly over the last 40 years, leaving behind a marsh about one and a half feet lower in elevation than unfarmed marsh. At a lower elevation with no natural tidal channels, the composition of certain areas changed from a lush, vegetated marsh to a mud flat. Besides being far less productive, mud flat contributes to the vulnerability of nearby houses upland in the event of a storm surge.
Over the last 20 years, PSEG chose the Thompsons Beach salt marsh as a mitigation site aimed to create more fish habitat by making natural tidal channels within the marsh. The elevation built up naturally to some degree and conditions today would be far worse without their effort.
Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and American Littoral Society are striving to leverage the existing work of PSEG to further restore the salt marsh. We will be building up the areas that didn’t recover from farming by bringing in sediment to add elevation. The materials will be coming from creeks dredged during PSEG’s previous restoration work on site. Over time, the creeks filled in again with mud. We will be using this mud to build up the marsh and open up the waterways for beach goers to launch their boats at different tide stages.
Before we begin our restoration work on the marsh, our ecologists are recording data points at over 400 locations in the salt marsh. Our goal is to plan for how much material we will need to add, and also, to document what we want to see changed ahead of time.
Core samples will also be taken to see how root structure differs at varying elevation levels. The underground biomass in the root samples are a good indicator of marsh condition. This data will be combined with elevation levels from Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center. Then, the scientists will collaborate and look for patterns in the data to see what conditions they would like to try to replicate in the marsh.
Adding elevation to areas of the Thompsons Beach salt marsh is important now more than ever due to the threats of climate change and sea level rise. We are operating with a deficit to begin with and these new challenges only add to the need for strong science-based recommendations behind our restoration work.
Joe Smith, who has worked as an ecologist on Delaware Bay for seven seasons, describes the marsh as vital for many seafood species. The marsh he says, is the “productive center of the marine ecosystem,” where many commercial fish, including blue crabs, spend the early stages of their life, taking advantage of the sheltered waters of the marsh.
Follow along with us as we use science-based methods to elevate the marsh and restore the balance of Thompsons Beach’s backbone!