by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

“Sunny Day” flooding on Seven Mile Island

The biggest threats our wetlands, coastal ecosystems, and coastal communities face are climate change and the impact of rising seas. Sea level rise is real and accelerating, and its effects are obvious: flooded roadways along the coast are the norm rather than the exception; “nuisance” or “sunny day” flooding is a regular occurrence; tidal marshes are inundated more frequently and to greater depths than ever before. These marshes support more than 75 percent of the commercial fish (and 90 percent of the recreational fish) caught in this country and up to half of North America’s bird species. Marshes are one of Earth’s most productive ecosystems, second only to tropical rainforests in the level of biodiversity they host. They are beautiful and bring us all a sense of calm and well-being. Yet they are at risk of drowning. The resilience of coastal ecosystems is being tested, and ours along with it. Our ability to adapt our coastal communities and intervene to preserve and protect these fragile ecosystems depends on whether or not we work to lessen the effects of climate change. Steps that society takes now to cut greenhouse gas emissions matter a lot in whether sea level is 1 versus 2 feet higher by 2050, or 21/2 versus 6 feet higher by 2100.

Wetlands Institute scientists have been studying these marshes for more than 50 years, and working to understand how rapidly rising seas are stressing and weakening these marshes and impacting the wildlife that depend on them. Research conducted here, and by many other organizations and agencies, is showing that many of New Jersey’s marshes are reaching a tipping point. In addition, our work on the marshes in our own backyard – the core of our laboratory and classroom, the marshes you love to visit and explore – clearly indicates that they are under stress and experiencing dramatic change.

Thankfully, we are moving from evaluating to action. Through our partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers and NJ Department of Environmental Protection in the Seven Mile Island Innovation Lab, we have implemented several marsh restoration and enhancement projects, and we have the data we need to move forward with more. This partnership is providing an opportunity to bring a restoration project home to our marshes here at the Institute. We are in the exciting planning stages and will be sharing more in the coming months and newsletters as our plans take shape. Stay tuned!