Sea Kayaker August 2011

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    Invasive Spartina species will hybridizewith native varieties where present; inthe UI( small cordgrass has been almostcompletely wiped out by commoncordgrass , a hybrid between the Bri t ishnat ive and the invading smooth cordgrassfrom the U.S. Spart ina invasion also al-ters the ecosystem by creat ing a densemat of roots that t raps sediment , which ,over t ime, wil l actual ly raise the eleva-t ion of the marsh and can cause long-las t ing changes o the coast l ine. This is aproblem lel t worldwide. Spart ina specieshave invaded the coast l ines of Austral ia ,New Zealand, China, Morocco, England,the Netherlands , France, Denmark,Germany and Spain . n many cases , heseinvasions have great ly al tered the localsal t -marsh ecology.

    Atlant ic and Gulf CoastsWhere native, Spartina grasses are keymembers of a vibrant and rich ecosystem.Estuaries of the Atlant ic and Gr-rl f Coastsare characterized by vast meadows ofsmooth cordgrass, bracketed at the higherin tert idal elevat ions by sal t meadowcordgrass . hese marshes are some of themost productive communities on Earth interms of the amount of plant materialproduced each year. This abundant growthdies back each year, contributing largequantities of decomposing plant materi-al-food lor invertebrates and other smallcritters, critical links in the marine foodweb. The wealth of such prey to eat com-bined with calm waters make sal t marshesperfect habi tat for small f ish , includingthe young o1 many cornmercial ly aluablespecies. For example, in North Carolinathe three most economically valuablefisheries are blue crab, Southern flounder,and shrimp-all of which depend onheal thy estuaries s nurseries .

    These marshes also play a key role ir-r

    protecting coastal communities from theangry sea-coastal wetlands are naturalbarriers to storm surges and other wild-water events. Spartina marshes havecomplex root systems hat resist he erosiveforces of the sea-even in winter whenthe stems die back; hese rhizomes are ableto withstand the force of mighty AtlanticNor'easters. hese same dense oot systemscan help filter stormwater running off thedeveloped coast into the sea-preventingsome of this toxic soup from reaching heserich waters. The looming threat of rising

    sea levels raises the question: What willhappen to these waterfront towns oncetheir barrier marshes are swallowed bv the

    14 SeaKayaker August2011

    Key o invasive partina pecies n

    Common ame Scientific ame

    Smoothcordgrass Spartinaalterniflora

    Common ordgr ass Spart ina nglica

    Spartina ensiflora

    Spartina atens

    I

    Denseflowercordgrass,

    Saltmeadow ordgrass

    sea? Organizations along the Atlantic andGulf Coasts are working to address thisconcern by protecting existing marshes

    and establishing new ones n places wherethere is open space at higher elevatictns othe marsh can migrate as he sea ises.

    Spart ina Marsh Restorat ionAs so often is the case along the coast ,sal t marshes are threatened by develop-ment , c l imate change, pol lu t ion and aslew of other environmental stressors.From 1998 o 2004. he Atlant ic and GulfCclasts ost over 62 ,000 acres , or almost100 square miles , of sal t marsh habi tat .Now remember, we are not jus t talk ing

    about grass here-these marshes arehome to a mult i tude of wild l i fe species,not to mention the v i tal ro le they play in

    PacificCoast, WestCoast-especiallSouth merica Humboldt av

    Atlantic ndGulf I West Coast-has otCoasts , been erywidespread

    coastal protect ion . Efforts are under waythroughout the Atlant ic and Gulf Coaststo protect and restore coastal marshes

    from all these stressors o hat th is crucialhabi tat can be maintained.

    Sarah Phil l ips is the coastal educat ioncoordinator with the North Carol inaCoastal Federat ion . Each year her or-ganizat ion works with volunteers toplant around 100,000 smooth cordgrassstems, known as plugs , along NorthCarol ina 's shores . One of her favori tesites is on an is land in the White OakRiver near Swansboro . Jones Island ispart of Hammocks Beach State Park andits Spart ina marsh was eroded by rough

    water caused by wind and wakes fromincreased powerboat traffic in the es tu-ary. During the spring plant ing season,

    the U.S.:

    Native ange

    Atlantic oast,Maine o Mexico

    Nowhere-hybrid

    r"*'r; R;"g;

    WestCoast-especiallyanFrancisco

    andWillapa ays

    WestCoast nd

    worldwide-especiallyPuget ound

    oo

    tod

    .qEo

    .z

    c

    Hybrid part ina lone, rowing uch al ler nd arther uton he mudflat han he sunounding at iveS. oliosa.

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    "kayakers of ten paddle olr t to Jones tohelp plant Spar t ina plugs," says Phi l l ips ."I t 's great to have the loca l paddl ingcommunity involved." The Federations par tner ing with kayak outf i t terso cor-rduct educational kayak tours

    of the marshes this summer, so lookhem up i f you ' r e in the neighborhoodnformation on the North Carolina

    Coasta l Fedcra tior-r 's estora tion eventscan be lound at www.nccoast .org.

    To the southwest on the Gulf Coast ,he story is sir-nilar-but ntore severc .

    Fronr I 998 Lo 2004, a lnrosr 45,000 acres,or 70 square n t i lc s , of coasta l marsh wasost to crosion, c lcvckrpn-rcn1 nd othert r e ssor s . Natura l and nran-nrade c l i sa s -c ' r s such a s Hur r icane I (a t r ina and the

    Decpwater Horizor. r i l spil l highlightedlle importance Of coasta l wcllands, anclhe i r vu lne rab i l i ty. Work i s unde r wayo restore sornc oI what has becn lost-

    rganizations sr. rch as thc Galvestor-rBay Founda t ior- r work with conrmunity

    olLrnteers o plant sntooth cordgrass ndeestablish native marsh. Every spr ing,his organization hosts two largc Marsl- r

    Mania p lan t ing cvents, gett ing hun-reds o f folks out to ins ta l l thousandsl Spa r t ina plants . "Since this event be-an in 1999," says Jrr l ic Mintzer withhc Ga lves ton Bay Founda t ion , "ove r,000 volunteers I tave restored almost00 acrcs oI marsh, plar- r t ing more thar l00,000 smooth cordgrass s tems . " In

    he pas1, ayakcrs . rave c lped transportmater ia ls to rcslora tiot] si tcs-and ear-ie r th is yea r Mintzc r ' s o rgan iza t ion a lso

    workcd wi th ove r I00 krca l paddlers or- r c r a s l - r a sh-an annualc leanup ol lo -a l walerways. Morc inkr ru ta t ion can belur-rd t the Galvcston Bay Foundatiorr 's

    website : www.ga vbay. 11;.

    West Coastn t l ' rc Wcst Coast , t l tc only nativelr. r r l ina s Cali lorr- r ia ordgrass. ts range

    s in r i ted 1o he sa l t ntarshes f the Goldenr : i l r ' . \ 'ashington and Ore gun have no. : : :rc Slr. t r t ina ; n t l"tc ' ac if ic Northwest ,

    hc rc i : no locdl p la r r t hat colonizes heserudf lc . r r a lr ir. r is-an intpor lanl piece oIl lr st( ) r \ ' . he salt ntarsl t hcrc is r- rsuallyela t ivell ' narro\\ ' bur c l iversc and alonglw-energv sltore l ir- rcs.vit l ' r he exceptiolte ing he vast estuar ine iver deltas whichan inch, rde extensive ntarsh communi-es. Vegeta ted, nter t idal arcas are crucia labita t or sa lmon l-ra t - rang ut as youngsh emerging f rom the f reshwater envi-

    onments ol r ivcrs and strear ls . Juvenilea lmon need o spend irne n the brackishaters of estuaries 1o prepare for lifc ir-re open sea-and they rely on healthy

    egeta t ion communities to provide a

    bounty of bugs and other invcr tcbra tesfor thcm to ea t .

    As any good Nortl twcst paddler musta lways re aware of , or r isk a long wait forcnough water to paddle home in, ntanybays empty at low t ide ir- t to vast seas ofbrown. These mudlla ts are lar lront thester i le moor"tscape the y appcar at thc sur-face . They are honte o cour- t t less lams an dother bivalves, and a mult in. r i l l ior. r ollarshellf ish ndustry. Mudfla ts a lso conta in ar.nind bogglinll array of inver tebra tes ndare vita l feeding habita t or migrating an dresidenl watc . r fowl. When non-nativeSpar t ina invades these rnudfla ts , i t car-rquickly sprcad ou1 ol the sa l t narsh r ingeinto tl ' re r ludf la t i tse l l . Shorebirds can-not feecl n Spar t ina ntarshes; he densevellc ta t ion and roOt systems revL-nt hemlrom gctt ing to their usual foodyLrmmy, squishy, crawly inver tebra tesbur ied ir. r hc mud. The marshlands oIthe West Coast are cr i t ica l stops alor. rg hePacific Flyway-the route nsed by n-ranyspecies of migratory birds as they travelbetween winter ir- rg reas o the south andtl- re ush Arctic breeding grounds of sum-mer. The potentia l mpact of the Spar t inainvasior-r on these two resollrces-shell-fish and waterfowl-is a common threadas we look at the story of these grasses nthe West.

    Large Spar t ina nlesta t ions are presentup and down the West Coast n regionalwaterways where the grasses ave got-ten a foo t - (o r should I say roo t ) hold:San Francisco Bay, Humboldt Bay,

    Willapa Bay and Puget Sound. The inv a-s ion history and f lavor is unique in eachcircumstance-par t of this crazy story.However, n a l l ca ses he question, "Howdid i t get he re?" has the sante answer-l rom human actions. Densef lowercorcigrass rr ived ir"r Hr-rmboldt Bay viaballast water f rom vesse ls aking on lum-be r for Chile , while smooth cordgrasswas l ike ly introdnced to Willapa Bay inWashington State when oys te r s wereinrpur led fror-n he Atla l t t ic Coast; bothof thesc invas ior. r s began in thc l a te1800s. Smoot l - r cordgrass and commoncordgrass w