Salt Marsh Loss

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The ecological and economic value of salt marshes has long been recognized. Salt marshes, along with eelgrass beds and oyster reefs, are among the most important marine habitats in the world. They are important nursery areas for inshore and offshore fish, shellfish and bird. Salt marshes recycle nutrients for plants and animals, serve to stabilize sediments and reduce erosion, and protect human communities from the effects of storm surges and sea-level rise. They are generally net importers of nutrients during the summer months when the grasses are growing. In winter, they are net exporters.

New Brunswick has 2,269 km of coastline and eight per cent (8%) of the total coastal habitat types (e.g, estuarine flats, saline ponds, dunes, beaches, islands) is salt marsh (Hanson and Calkins 1996).

Distribution of Salt Marshes in New Brunswick (Hanson and Calkins 1996)

Up to 65 per cent of New Brunswick’s salt marshes have been lost during the past 300 years (Environment Canada 1987; National Wetlands Working Group 1988). Losses were initially due to extensive conversion of salt marsh to agricultural land by building dykes, particularly in the Upper Bay of Fundy region.

Since the early 1990s, the allure of the ocean has spawned a trend of population growth in coastal areas, particularly southeastern New Brunswick. The warm, shallow sandy beaches and close proximity to one of New Brunswick’s fastest growing regions (the Moncton/Dieppe area) and an aggressive provincial tourism marketing program have combined to make New Brunswick’s east and south-east coast one of the most popular tourism destinations in New Brunswick (Milewski and Harvey 2001). The result has been a boom in residential/cottage development, marinas, eco-tourism projects and other human infrastructure along New Brunswick’s east coast.

In 2005, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick conducted a survey of thirty salt marshes along the east coast of New Brunswick between Point Escuminac and Cape Jourimain. The goal of the survey was to identify the type and overall degree of human disturbance for each salt marsh and assess opportunities for their restoration.

According to the survey, salt marshes are experiencing a phenomenon referred to as ‘coastal squeeze’ where marsh habitat is surrounded by hard structures’ like roads, houses and breakwaters that alter water flow and prevent marshes from adapting to natural and human-induced changes. The survey also found that certain regulations in New Brunswick’s Wetlands Conservation Policy, such as the requirement for a 30-metre buffer between significant wetland features and development activities, were not being respected or enforced. It was also apparent from the survey and other recent studies that a 30-metre buffer is inadequate to protect salt marsh habitat and adjacent communities from predicted increased rates of sea-level rise along the eastern coast of New Brunswick. The report recommended that the regulations defining the width of buffers be amended to provide increased protection for coastal wetlands. (Conservation Council of New Brunswick. 2007. Salt Marsh Restoration Survey for the Eastern Coast of New Brunswick: Point Escuminac to Cape Jourimain, 50 p.)