Wetlands conference presents promising restoration projects
Environmental scientists, academics and engineers gathered in Wilmington this week to present the latest advances in wetland research.
Wetlands cover about a quarter of Delaware, but have declined steadily over the past couple decades due to human development, agricultural runoff and sea level rise.
Preserving the First State’s wetlands was a major topic at the 2016 Delaware Wetlands Conference. Alison Rogerson heads up DNREC’s wetland monitoring and assessment program.
“Conservation should be first priority," said Rogerson, "taking care of those properties, whether it’s through regulation and improving our state freshwater wetland program or through conservation easements, voluntary incentives to take care of the property you have. if it’s forested or tidal, because they’re already doing a great job at flood control and water quality improvement."
DNREC plans to release a 10-year wetland assessment next year. The last assessment was released in 2007.
Some presentations at the conference focused on living shorelines, a new restoration technique using local plants and animals to rebuild damaged shorelines. This method has become preferable to bulkheads and other hard structures that can speed up shoreline erosion.
In recent years, living shorelines have been built along Delaware’s Inland Bays, which have suffered poor water quality due to agricultural runoff. There are currently two: one at the Indian River Inlet Marina and the other at the Bethany Loop Canal, which is made out of oyster cages.
The Center for the Inland Bays’ science and restoration coordinator Marianne Walch said these living shorelines have shown success in fending off extreme weather events.
“Some of the big storms we’ve had that have come through in the last couple of years have demonstrated that these living shorelines survive very well during storms and in many cases survive better than the bulkheads right next to them," said Walch.
Welch added there are up to six more living shoreline projects planned for the Inland Bays.
Attendees also presented projects in which constructing wetlands served as a way to restore wildlife habitats and recover brownfield sites. There were also several presentations focused on the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, where a major salt marsh restoration project is taking place.