Pemaquid Beach Salt Marsh Restoration

aerial view of Pemaquid Beach salt marsh

Nestled behind Pemaquid Beach is a special place, a 6-acre salt marsh that is now on the road to once again being a healthy ecosystem. Prior to 2005, the marsh had limited saltwater input due to a roadway culvert that restricted tidal flow, which was resulting in the marsh transforming into a brackish wetland. Thanks to the initiative and diligence of local resident, Joan Lyford, in bringing attention to the problem, the culvert was replaced in 2005, restoring the natural tidal flow and increasing native salt marsh vegetation. The culvert replacement work in 2005 was completed thanks to funding from Coastal America, the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Habitat Restoration Partnership, Maine Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, and the Town of Bristol.

Since the culvert replacement, over 20 Pemaquid Watershed Association (PWA) volunteers have been involved in monitoring the marsh in order to document changes and assess the success of the salt marsh restoration. Experts at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve provided technical assistance and guidance for PWA’s citizen-scientist crew, with funding for the monitoring project provided by the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment. Sampling focused on nekton (fish), groundwater salinity, vegetation, and birds, and results from the Pemaquid marsh were compared to a reference site in Phippsburg, Maine, in order to evaluate changes over the years. PWA member, Hope Gould, 72-year-young New Harbor resident, said “Counting mummichogs and crabs at the marsh has been my favorite part so far of volunteering with PWA. It was fun!”

Post-restoration monitoring results from 2005-2007 indicate that there have been substantial favorable changes in the marsh. First, percent cover of halophytic plants (those adapted to living in salty soil) increased significantly upstream of the culvert following restoration, whereas percent cover of plants that live in a brackish (slightly salty) or freshwater environment significantly decreased. What this means is that the plant community has become more typical of a salt marsh than of a brackish or freshwater marsh.

Second, salinity data showed that the groundwater upstream of the culvert was not as salty as the groundwater on the beach side of the culvert prior to restoration, but following restoration, the difference in groundwater salinity between the two sides was significantly less, suggesting the marsh side is being regularly flooded with ocean waters. This is good news because healthy salt marshes are one of the most productive wildlife habitats and provide other important functions, such as water filtration and protection of the coastline from erosion.

Public access to the marsh is not permitted. However, the marsh can be viewed from Fish Point Rd in New Harbor and from an overlook site at Pemaquid Beach Park, where a 36” x 27” marsh-focused educational panel was installed last summer by Bristol Parks Commissioner, Gordon Benner. Alison Carver, local graphic artist and PWA member, designed the panel and included beautiful original artwork of several species that frequent the marsh, such as the European Green Crab and Great Blue Heron. Funding for the interpretive display was provided by the PWA, Bristol Parks and Recreation Commission, New England Grassroots Environment Fund, and the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment.

This monitoring project exemplifies PWA’s commitment to its mission of conserving the natural resources of the Pemaquid peninsula through land and water stewardship and education. PWA extends gratitude to all the volunteers involved and will continue to keep a watchful eye on the marsh. For more information on this or other PWA projects, call 207-563-2196.

Supporting document: Final Report Synopsis of the Pemaquid Salt Marsh Post-Restoration Monitoring Project

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