Habitat restoration is critical to address the loss of marsh habitat caused by the non-native nutria on the Delmarva Peninsula. Nutria eat the roots and above ground vegetation of marsh plants, resulting in the loss of thousands of acres of marsh habitat. Scientific studies have shown that damage to marsh and shallow water habitat has resulted in the decline of oysters, crabs, fish, and waterfowl. This, in turn, translates into a significant loss of commercial and recreational revenue.
Damage to these essential wetlands and waters must be repaired to conserve the remaining fish and wildlife habitats, as well as sustain commercial and recreational activities. The health of marsh habitats on the Delmarva Peninsula is being evaluated and prioritized for conservation efforts. Biologists from Maryland, Delaware and Virginia; federal agencies; and non-government organizations are partnering with coastal engineers to use the newest scientific techniques for marsh restoration and protection. By restoring lost shallow water and marsh habitat, we will improve the economic returns for activities such as fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing.
In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Aquarium, Salisbury Zoo, and Friends of Blackwater, restored 15 acres of marshland in three different locations on Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge by using thin layer dredging techniques and planting native marsh vegetation. The 2003 restoration work determined that dredged material can be successfully applied at Blackwater to restore marshland, however, it has been estimated that between 13 and 65 million cubic yards of material will be required to fully restore Blackwater marshes. The only source for such a large quantity of material is the Baltimore Harbor approach channels in the Chesapeake Bay, which require the removal and placement of 4 million cubic yards of sediment per year. These sediments are currently deposited at the Poplar Island Environmental Restoration Project. The Blackwater National Wildlife refuge restoration project has been proposed as one of several dredged material placement sites to be used when Poplar Island reaches capacity.
Before Restoration (left). After Restoration (right). USFWS Photo
Habitat protection activities improve the Chesapeake Bay landscape’s resiliency to climate change by protecting corridors for marshes to migrate as sea-level rises. Federal, state, local, and non-governmental organizations protect habitat through conservation easements and acquire property through fee title acquisition. By combining the strengths of all partners, we can conserve the wildlife and public use of the Delmarva Peninsula for the future.
On May 12, 2009, President Barak Obama signed the Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, Order 15508, declaring the Chesapeake Bay a National Treasure and requiring a renewed commitment from federal agencies to protect and restore the health, heritage, natural resources, and social and economic value of the nation’s largest estuarine ecosystem and the natural sustainability of its watershed.
This Executive Order requires the Department of the Interior to work with other federal and state agencies to conserve and restore landscapes within the watershed. This includes protecting an additional two million acres of priority lands for conservation, restoring 30,000 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands, and enhancing 150,000 acres of degraded wetlands. Habitat protection and restoration efforts by the Chesapeake Bay Nutria Eradication Project and other multi-agency restoration partnerships will help to meet the goals of the executive order.
Recently, a partnership including The Conservation Fund, Audubon Maryland-DC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources, in collaboration with many other agencies and individual experts, published the Blackwater 2100 report, an assessment of tidal marsh loss in and around Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge due to sea level rise, projected through the end of the century. The Blackwater 2100 report also outlines key strategies that help slow the rate of loss, improve the health of the marshes, and ensure the marsh has room to move and re-establish as sea level rises. The partnership recently received a Hurricane Sandy Relief Grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to increase saltmarsh acreage and enhance resiliency on Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area. The project will create 25 acres of new saltmarsh, increase saltmarsh productivity, provide additional funding to the Chesapeake Bay Nutria Eradication Project, and generate a map to direct invasive plant eradication efforts.