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Military, Government Groups Endorse NC Salt-Marsh Protection Plan

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Salt marshes have disappeared over the past two decades along the Eastern Seaboard and other coastlines because of development, polluted runoff and rising seas. (Adobe Stock)
Salt marshes have disappeared over the past two decades along the Eastern Seaboard and other coastlines because of development, polluted runoff and rising seas. (Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan - Producer, Contact
May 12, 2021

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- A group of military and government leaders has endorsed an initiative to protect the one million acres of salt marsh that stretches from North Carolina down to northeast Florida.

Salt marshes are sinewy channels of coastal grasslands known for their ability to protect coasts from flooding and storm surge. About a dozen military bases and training grounds are located along or close to the Southeast coastline.

John Nicholson, chief deputy secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, said healthy salt marshes can significantly improve coastal ecosystem and community resilience.

"Through the protection of property, infrastructure and installations overall from storm surge and flooding during heavy rain events and hurricanes," Nicholson outlined.

The decision came from the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability which includes members of the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, along with state environmental and natural-resource officials from across the Southeast. A draft conservation plan is expected for 2022.

Nicholson added the state's Climate Risk and Resiliency plan calls for living shoreline designs that include salt marshes and other strategies to boost resilience to natural disasters.

"Along with salt marsh, we've been working on sub-aquatic vegetation and what that means to habitat and water quality," Nicholson explained. "And I do believe that our folks that live down on the coast understand and appreciate what this means."

According to NOAA, salt marshes soak up excess floodwaters and wave energy during storms, and can mitigate property damage by up to 20%.

Lora Clarke, East Coast marine conservation officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said salt marshes face many ongoing threats.

"Rising seas, polluted runoff and poorly planned development," Clarke listed. "So this is an opportunity to bring all the partners together now to develop solutions and protect this habitat while we still have it."

Two dozen groups of fishermen, hunters, conservationists and others have also declared their support for developing a salt-marsh plan.

The U.S. has approximately 3.8 million acres of salt marshes, and three-quarters of them are in the Southeast.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Disclosure: The Pew Charitable Trusts - Environmental Group contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Climate Change/Air Quality, Consumer Issues, Endangered Species and Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Health Issues, Public Lands/Wilderness, and Salmon Recovery. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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