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Nature Conservancy study highlights Delaware's resilient coastal areas

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media
Bombay Hook. Taken in June 2017.

A new study from the Nature Conservancy identifies several areas in Delaware where wildlife and habitat may be able to find refuge from rising seas.





Marsh habitat like Milford Neck Preserve and Bombay Hook have the potential to protect land and habitats when sea levels rise, because of their unique elevation and lay of the land.


Richie Jones is the director for the Nature Conservancy’s Delaware chapter. He says there’s a need to protect these areas so they can do that job. 


The Delaware Nature Conservancy is already working with Delaware Wildlands and Fish and Wildlife on restoring 10,000 acres at Milford Neck.


“What we’re trying to do is restore the way that the water moves naturally through the marsh, which will in turn increase the resiliency of the marsh and it will also increase its functionality as a buffer thereby protecting inland forests,” Jones said.


Jessi Hammond, the bayshore project manager for the Delaware Nature Conservancy, says there’s still some work that needs to be done to protect Delaware’s coast.


“What we’re looking to do is move natural based solutions as much as possible,” Hammond said. “By that we mean moving away from gray infrastructure and looking at opportunities where can use these tidal marshes to help protect our human infrastructures and interest in upland areas.”


Hammond continued, “By having these marshes serve as a buffer, we’re able to better protect upland infrastructure.”


In its study, the Nature Conservancy looked at the coastal regions of nine states, including Delaware. 


They highlighted areas along the coast that could protect threatened habitats from sea level rise because of their unique topography or elevation.


The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service helped fund and support the report. Scott Schwenk, the science coordinator with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s science applications program, said the study is helpful in identifying places that don’t have infrastructure built right up to the shoreline that risks deteriorating from sea level rise.


“And what this study can help do is really show the places where it is not too late — where we still have a chance to try to keep these systems now into the future,” Schwenk said. 

Schwenk said now that these strongholds have been identified, one of the next steps is reducing the amount of pollution that goes into coastal systems. Excess nitrogen, for example, can degrade salt marshes, he said.


The study, called "Resilient Coastal Sites for Conservation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US" can be found here.

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