Project aims to create new salt marsh Published Tuesday October 19th, 2010
New marsh expected to reduce erosion, provide new habitat
By Craig Babstock
Times & transcript staff
AULAC - An ambitious project is underway to restore a salt marsh that disappeared when Acadian farmers built a dike in the mid-1800s.
N.B. Department of Transportation
A sod-turning ceremony was held yesterday to launch the Aulac-Beausejour Salt Marsh Restoration project on the Bay of Fundy. From left: Jeff Ollerhead, dean of Science at Mount Allison University; Tom Duffy, Atlantic operations manager of Ducks Unlimited; Mark McLean of Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada; N.B. Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister Mike Olscamp; and Department of Transportation assistant director Mike Phillips.
It's hoped the marsh will help protect agricultural land and transportation infrastructure from flooding and erosion caused by high tides.
"Over 150 years ago this was a salt marsh and it's being restored to its original state," says Wade Lewis, Ducks Unlimited's manager of restoration services for the Atlantic region. "I've spent close to the last two and a half years on this and absolutely I'm very excited to be a part of this."
The project is a partnership between Ducks Unlimited, New Brunswick's Departments of Transportation, Environment and Agriculture and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans' Small Craft Harbours program. Total cost is estimated at close to $1 million, with Transportation and DFO contributing approximately $464,000 each and New Brunswick's Environmental Trust Fund providing $40,000 in support.
Ducks Unlimited is co-ordinating the science, planning, construction and monitoring at the site.
Lewis says the project started with a year of planning, followed by a year and a half of site work. Three breaches will be made this week in a 900-metre stretch of dike near the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border to flood a 16-hectare parcel of former farmland, then the site will be monitored for three years to see how the marsh develops. Minister of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Mike Olscamp was at the sod-turning ceremony yesterday to launch the salt marsh restoration project. He credited the previous government with getting this project started and said the dike in question was no longer adequate.
"It's been identified that there are some older dikes that are not as stable as they should be," says Olscamp, also the MLA for Tantramar.
The dike has been repaired over the years, but the repairs were not a permanent solution. The government built a new dike in this area farther inland, leaving a 16 hectare parcel of land between the new dike and the old dike. The breaches in the old dike will allow water to flood in between the dikes during high tide, then out again during low tide.
Over time a salt marsh will be created and the hope is the water will leave sediment behind, building up the marsh. Then during storm surges, the marsh will take the brunt of the water before it gets to the new dike, which is bigger than the old one, limiting erosion and reducing the chance of flooding.
Lewis says this is the first time something like this has been attempted in the upper Bay of Fundy region, so it's a pilot project that could be applied to other areas if it works. He says this particular dike was a good place to start because some of the other dikes in the area have salt marshes in front of them already to help absorb the brunt of tides. This old dike does not.
"It was being breached and being eroded heavily," says Lewis.
This particular area was not known for bad flooding, says Olscamp, but the work is preventative, to avoid any possible storm surge flooding in the future that could damage agricultural land or the nearby rail tracks and Trans-Canada Highway.
"There's always a possibility that with the right conditions something could happen," says the minister.
Lewis adds that with rising global water levels, this kind of work needs to be done in case of a big weather event down the road.
Ducks Unlimited says 65 per cent of salt marshes in Atlantic Canada have been altered, degraded or destroyed and in the Upper Bay of Fundy region, it's 85 per cent. Lewis says not only will this future marsh help protect from flooding and erosion, but it will also be a new environment for plants and animals.
"Salt marshes are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet," he says.
This restoration project involves long-term monitoring and research in areas such as how quickly the vegetation becomes re-established, how quickly sediment builds up, bird response, and presence of fish and invertebrates. This research will be done in partnership with faculty and students at Mount Allison University, the University of New Brunswick and Acadia University.