Aulac salt marsh restoration ahead of schedule

A saltwater marsh project in Aulac is expected to help inform other possible erosion and rising sea level mitigation

Scientific knowledge gained can help guide restoration of other wetlands on Bay of Fundy

A salt marsh restoration project at Aulac involves Ducks Unlimited, three universities and the Department of Agriculture. (Denis Calnan/CBC)

A saltwater marsh project in Aulac is expected to help inform other possible erosion and rising sea level mitigation efforts in the Bay of Fundy area.

Scientists are measuring how fast marsh flora and fauna are returning to the recently restored marsh.

The upper Bay of Fundy area has lost the vast majority of its marshes, which many scientists consider unfortunate because the wetlands can help mitigate rising ocean levels and erosion.

Ducks Unlimited, along with three universities — Mount Allison University, the University of New Brunswick and Acadia University — and the provincial Department of Agriculture, have partnered on the project.

In 2010, the provincial government had to replace a 1.5-kilometre section of an old dyke that was protecting farmland in Aulac with one farther inland.

Ducks Unlimited and the universities took the opportunity to nurture the low land between the dykes to become a marsh.

Nic McLellan, the conservation program specialist with Ducks Unlimited Canada, said the move provided an opportunity to restore the salt marsh habitat in the area and provide a buffer in front of the new dyke.

"With this opportunity there was a chance to learn," he said.

The group designed the breaches, how the dykes were opened, how salt water was reintroduced to the area with the help of some oceanographers and geographers.

McLellan said they also monitored the progression of how the area has changed and restored since that time.

"For a salt marsh to establish, sediment needs to accumulate," McLellan said.

"So we designed openings in the old dyke to allow the tides in, when they're at their highest levels, so that water would come in and deposit sediment and slowly leave. And trap sediment between the old dyke and the new dyke."

Other marshes may benefit

Now the monitoring of the space is helping the researchers understand how other marshes in the upper Bay of Fundy area might be restored.

Some UNB researchers were in the marsh area on Thursday monitoring the growth of the marsh plants.

They are measuring how fast sediment is accumulating, how fast plants are re-establishing themselves and activity of invertebrates, fish and animals in the area. They are comparing those things with natural salt marshes nearby.

The grasses are "key" and hold the sediment deposits in place to stabilize the area in front of the new dyke, said McLellan.

The land took to becoming a healthy marsh land somewhat faster than expected.

McLellan said with climate change, communities may have to recede further inland, so the information gathered at this site may help inform future projects to encourage marsh land.

"We can apply the knowledge we learn from this," he said.


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