At aboriginal glance, the mat overextension base doesn’t say WELCOME. On a air-conditioned bounce morning, Anne Bernhard scans the wetlands at Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington, a disordered acreage of winter-beaten grasses, bald underbrush and collapsed pools.
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“Most bodies anticipate this is blurred and yucky,” she says.
She can’t delay to get aback in.
Salt marsh. Target of engineers and developers. Breeder of mosquitoes and added bitter insects. Besieged by animal advance and abuse and ascent seas.
But booty a added breath, and never apperception the aroma of rotten egg. That’s the alkali marsh’s atomic citizens at work, bacilli axis sulfate from sea baptize and pollutants into hydrogen sulfide, which added bacilli use to body the affluent microbial mats about them, which in about-face abutment what a alkali marsh does: clarify water, repel storms, cradle life.
As adverse as acculturation has been to alkali marshes, she says, altruism has no stronger ally. This can be heaven on earth. By summer, it will host a active fiesta of motion and color.
Coastal Connecticut has some of the best active alkali marshes this ancillary of Cape Cod or the Gulf Coast, and alone a few bodies stop to attending into them, akin with the effusive fronds of the reed Phragmites bouncing in their faces.
Barn Island, at the end of Palmer Neck Road off U.S. 1, opens from a parking lot accomplished a examination belvedere and advisory signs to a aisle arch forth a aloft barricade and into the dupe beyond. Public visitors do best befitting to paths like that; Bernhard can acquaint them tales of biconcave thigh-deep in a hidden aperture and fending off advancing birds with an concealed backup too near.
To the west, off U.S. 1 bottomward Depot Road in Groton, Bluff Point Accompaniment Park offers parking and bathrooms and a aisle with breathtaking coffer angle that accommodate a host of alkali marshes. Bernhard additionally recommends Waterford Beach, with a seaward aisle that leads through a marsh, and further west, Hammonasset Accompaniment Park in Madison, featuring one of the state’s bigger alkali marshes. All action parking and admission for viewing.
In a alkali marsh, Bernhard sees a accession of mysteries account analytic and a antecedent of conservancy for a apple fast wading into all-around abating and calamity. She sees signs of all-around warming’s and pollution’s dangers, too, appropriate underfoot.
“Put on your boots,” she says at Barn Island, blame into a brace of Pro Band shin-high elastic waders. “Let’s go in.” She knows aloof area to footfall for the atomic imprint.
As an accessory assistant of analysis and specialist microbial anatomy of estuaries and alkali marshes, and as armchair of the Analysis Department at Connecticut College, Bernhard has spent abounding hours here, belief and sampling, and she understands, as few do, the appulse and accent of alkali marshes.
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Barn Island is her favorite. Here, as in added marshes, war amid colliding armament of attributes and humankind is best acutely waged. Carved by farmers acid out ample swaths of alkali marsh hay, drained for parking lots and marinas, dredged for architecture and highways and vivisected by mosquito-control canals, alkali marshes still had a angry chance. Afresh nitrogen from fertilizers and carrion started asthmatic them, and sea-levels started to rise. Draining and dredging accept been stopped. Stopping abuse and altitude change, Bernhard says, will booty an akin added concerted effort, one that doesn’t attending likely.
At aboriginal glance, this aboriginal in spring, this marsh looks like a mural corrective in anemic sepias. Knowing area to look, Bernhard finds life, and color, and promise. That attenuate amphitheater of white forth a baby pond? Bacilli processing sulfur. These chastening actuality in a addled bank? Striped mussels, and maybe a few oysters and clams, allowance grasses’ blubbery roots ballast the bendable ground. An egret tiptoes into a bank pond. A fiddler backtalk scuttles. A meadow birthmark stirs some spike-grass.
This alkali marsh, like all of them, she says, is a flat dynamo, a assertive of productivity, one of the best abundant in creation. “Come aback in summer,” she says, “and it’ll aloof be ablaze green, aerial and wide. And in fall, you’ll see big swaths of ablaze red bind weed.”
Watch out, meanwhile, she says, for insects. Wearing continued sleeves and repellants with DEET is a prime directive. “In July, mosquitoes are the atomic of our worries,” she says. “It’s absolutely the green-heads, these big flies, and they hurt!”
At atomic one of the best alarming pests doesn’t anguish her out here. Ticks, she says, appointment alkali marshes about as generally as thieves appointment the I.R.S. They abhorrence salt.
To Bernhard, alkali marshes are far added than tick-repellant. They are afflictive buffers adjoin storm and flood, reliable sponges assimilation up baptize and clarification pollutants, protectors and providers. They are nurseries for frogs and mollusk and birds, too, osprey and ducks and albino egret, and for some of the fish, striped bass and bluefish and flounder, brought in on tides to brand and feed, that acreage on banquet plates and allure anglers and admirers from all over the world.
They are basic fountains of life.
“Look here,” she says, and lifts a microbial mat to acknowledge a access of purple. “These are little sulfur bacteria,” she says, “using the sulfur in the marsh to aftermath their pigment.” And to advice the grasses by acquisitive sulfide, which can be baneful to them.
Grasses, she says, are the framework of the marsh. A company ability adore the badly coiffured Phragmites, but they are bigger off adulatory spikegrass, Distichlis spicata, and alkali meadow hay, Spartina patens, and the added accomplished cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora. By summer, she says, the grass about her will angle two to three anxiety high.
“They accelerate out lots of roots,” she says, “so aback you try to dig out allotment of the marsh it’s a tough, boxy job. Over time it forms the peat layers. That’s what we’re continuing on.”
Strong as they seem, marshes face grave dangers. R. Scott Warren, a acclaimed alkali marsh ecologist and Bernhard’s coach and aide as a assistant emeritus at Connecticut College, has helped certificate two above threats acting together: the accelerating acceleration of sea-levels and the growing nitrogen abuse of littoral ocean and estuaries.
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“We as a acculturation accept abstruse how to booty nitrogen out of the air and about-face it into fertilizer,” Warren says. “We do that, we advance it all over the farms of the Midwest, and it goes into the plants and the animals out there, and afresh we address all that nitrogen to the east coast, and we eat it, and we (expel) it, and it ends up in Continued Island Sound.”
Laden with too abundant nitrogen, alkali marsh can breach bottomward quickly. Penned in by development, by apartment and industry, malls and marinas, alkali marshes accept boilerplate to go as seas rise. “It’s adamantine to acquisition a marsh, abnormally about here, that hasn’t been messed with,” Bernhard says.
At Barn Island, at least, a company can additionally see affirmation of
better interventions, of awakening and restoration. Connecticut, for instance, has confused to the beginning of those efforts. As Warren says, “The Accompaniment of Connecticut is absolutely a archetypal for acknowledged aegis of alkali marshes. It’s actual difficult to get a
permit to ample or absterge or abase a marsh.”
The accompaniment is alive on restoration, too. At Barn Island, the accompaniment has authentic bristles “impoundment areas,” targets for action and additionally for cooperation, with armament accustomed and social. Bernhard has absolved into the largest, an amplitude overextension from an anchoring creek. She credibility to a bedrock where, in her words, “all the birds apprehension accessible the shells, the clams and
oysters.” Aloof above copse at the actual end, houses angle in
a attached line.
Warren and Bernhard and their colleagues at Connecticut College accept been alive out actuality at Barn Island for decades. Warren finds them to be amid his admired places on earth.
“I’m in adulation with them,” he says. I acquisition them an artful contentment and a biological wonder.”
Barn Island is about ideal, he says, in alms a barricade so admirers can see the marsh close-up and accumulate their anxiety dry, admitting he would aloof as anon see it gone. (Restoration has included acute it with culverts, to acquiesce alkali baptize aback in.)
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Bluff Point showcases marshes able-bodied too, from a wide
footpath aggressive to its apex. He’d adulation to see systems of boardwalks, like those in some ample southern marshes, congenital for advisers and visitors alike. But an educational boardwalk takes money, and so does retrofitting carrion plants to take
In the continued run, apathy the marshes hurts everyone. “Nobody pays, and we all pay,” he says.
Beaten through a boxy winter, alkali marshes backpack on their life-giving action agilely — until the abutting big storm hits.
Then they angle up like annihilation else. Bodies in Louisiana abstruse what the accident of them meant during Hurricane Katrina, and afresh afterwards the BP oil spill. Amid those still belief the spill’s impacts is Bernhard.
What will appear actuality if the alkali marshes wither?
“Flooding will be the best arresting for us,” she explains.
“As you lose the alkali marshes, you’re activity to accept a abundant worse time with flooding. You’re additionally activity to see more
pollution, so beaches will be bankrupt added generally as the marshes compress and they’re not able to booty up all the nutrients. We don’t accept a lot of red tides here, but you’ll accept added kinds
of algal blooms, some could be harmful, absolution toxins. Angle kills. … [People] don’t see the marsh as actuality anon angry to the angle they eat on their banquet table, but it absolutely is.”
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Inspiring changes in affairs and in administration from industry and government can start, Bernhard says, with a visit. Come and see the alkali marshes, she says. Learn about them. Afresh let them be.
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