Narragansett – The University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography Coastal Resources Center was the site of the most recent gathering of the Rhode Island Beach SAMP, drawing a full auditorium of coastal environmentalists, students and residents concerned with continuing changes to the states shoreline.
Monday’s meeting of the Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP), focused on the issue of seawalls and man-made coastal armoring, unveiled Rhode Island’s pending participation in a federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) sea-level rise planning program for wetlands.
“We have a problem here in RI with our current wetlands. A lot of them are drowning in place,” said Grover Fugate, Executive Director CRMC, announcing the program. “[We] are engaged with a project with Federal FWS to see if we can’t bring sediment in and spray it onto the marsh to raise the elevation of the marshes to keep up with that.”
Dubbed SLAMM, the Sea-Level Affecting Marshes Model, developed and managed by FWS for its National Wildlife Refuge system, began in 1988 and evolved over time. According to FWS, in cooperation with the Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning (NRCS), SLAMM modeling identifies a specific habitat via digitized mapping and then applies several different sea-level rise scenarios.
“The other thing we are looking at as sea level rises, those marshes may migrate, so we are trying to figure out what those migration areas might be. Unfortunately, a lot of our shoreline is such that we will have fairly steep topographic change meaning that it will reach a height so the wetland really won’t have anywhere to go and it slams into a headland or a bluff,”
Responding to a question regarding the placement of active barriers in wetland areas, Fugate explained the difficulties posed by the use of man-made structures in comparison to natural barriers.
“Or we have seawalls or revetments or a structure – whatever type of structure there, that form the same type of function. Our fringe marsh will disappear unless we figure out some other form of prevention. So one of the things we are looking at are living shorelines and low energy environments to try and deal with that,” said Fugate.
Fugate further spoke to alternative measures being considered for marsh protection in terms of management of not only sea level rise, but additional problems being suffered due to breakdown in natural marsh layering caused by an imbalance in nutrients and natural propagation.
According to Laura Dwyer, spokesperson for CRMC, the SLAMM program is still in its developmental stages and details will be released soon.