After nearly three years of development, a comprehensive plan to protect salt marsh along the coast from North Carolina to east-central Florida has finally come to fruition.
The South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative’s (SASMI) plan calls for protecting the sinewy channels of coastal grasslands for their value in reducing flooding and erosion, providing wildlife habitat and supporting coastal businesses and economies.
“Salt marshes are iconic landscapes in the coastal Southeast, yet their health and sustainability is anything but assured,” said Robert Boyles, director of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). “The South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative represents a comprehensive effort to bring to the table all who have an interest in the health of these invaluable habitats to collaborate and cooperate to secure the future of these special ecosystems.”
The plan includes two key strategies: protect and restore the health and functions of existing salt marshes and conserve marsh migration corridors, including removing or retrofitting barriers to ensure salt marshes can shift as sea levels rise. Now that it has been finalized and released, partners are working to begin these implementation efforts.
In South Carolina, a coalition of over 75 individuals, including those from the Coastal Conservation League, SCDNR, U.S. Department of Defense and local land trusts have worked together to recognize primary threats to salt marsh and identify key strategies, objectives and actions to conserve the marsh.
“I’m constantly reminded of how we are all interconnected and dependent on our environment. And while it is integral to our way of life, it is also a critical habitat for our fish, birds, and other wildlife populations,” said Faith Rivers James, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League. “Our marshes are the lifeblood of our ecosystem, and we must protect it so those who come after us can experience it in the way we have been blessed.”
Marshes are threatened by rising seas, polluted runoff, and unsustainable development. Strategies in the plan range from elevating roads to conserving land near marshes so the tidal wetlands can move as sea levels rise.
It also calls for close collaboration between SASMI partners, local communities, and governments to identify and implement the tactics best suited for each location and includes suggestions for securing funding, improving development planning processes and educating and engaging communities in salt marsh conservation projects.
“As we’ve demonstrated over the last few years, we can make more progress toward our goals when we come together,” James said. “Now we must continue to partner to ensure that this well-considered plan does not sit on a shelf; that we see it through to full implementation.”
In South Carolina, many partners are working diligently to map marsh migration all along the coast. With this mapping data on hand, the conservation community will be able to prioritize these land protection efforts.
As an extension of decades of work on shoreline protection, the Conservation League has partnered with SCDNR and other partners in the Coalition to create a living shorelines contractor training course. This resource will give marine contractors an additional tool in their toolbelt to help private property owners build living shorelines along their marshfront properties.
The Lowcountry Sentinel Landscape was also designated in the South Coast, which will bring additional funds for conservation work to support space for the marsh to migrate.
From North Carolina to east-central Florida, the SASMI coalition includes more than 300 military and government officials, community leaders, conservationists, scientists, fishermen and others.
The framework for this work was modeled off America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, and the coalition was brought together by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability (SERPPAS), whose members include the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies along with state environmental and natural resource officials from across the Southeast.
Read the full SASMI Plan here: https://marshforward.org/media/4bvhppi3/sasmi-plan.pdf
See a map here: https://marshforward.org/media/yypfdjjf/sasmi-map.pdf
Media photos are available here: https://marshforward.org/media/euwmv30r/sasmi-photos-for-media-usedocx.pdf
Find b-roll here: https://cornell.box.com/s/6i52kz35yv8blninqmo86b9ngu8z9y23