U.S. Water News Online
GLOUCESTER, Mass. -- After cleaning the bottom of his boat
in the Annisquam River last September, Brad Chase dove a few feet
deeper to look at the bed of the salt water estuary, expecting a view
more like a moonscape than a seascape.
What he found surprised, awed, and disturbed him. Chase, a marine
biologist, saw a cascade of color in green crabs, blue mussels,
orange tunicates, and flat, browning European oysters. "The contrast
in colors and textures as the sunlight filtered through the running
tide was mesmerizing," he said. "It took a few minutes before I
realized that these creatures were not supposed to be here. Almost
every creature catching my eye was not native to our waters."
Chase said he began wondering about the future of coastal waters
from Boston Harbor to the Gulf of Maine. He is not alone. Bruce
Carlisle and Christian Krahforst at the state's Office of Coastal
Zone Management have a focus on the health of wetlands between the
sea and shore. Others, including April Ridlon, a biology researcher
at the Massachusetts Audubon Society's North Shore office in Wenham,
and Sal Genovese, education coordinator at Northeastern University's
Marine Science Center in Nahant, also research the coastline and
Their views on the region's coastline offer hope, pessimism, a
large dose of caution, and as many questions as answers about the
next decade and beyond.
Chase, a researcher at the state Division of Marine Fisheries
Laboratory in Gloucester, said the invasion of non-native species
such as the European oyster, along with the destruction of natural
habitats and watershed buffers, are threatening a variety of marine
With him, colleague Jeff Plouff, a lab analyst and field support
technician at the state's Annisquam Station, examined the flat shells
of European oysters, whose population has exploded in Salem and more
recently in Gloucester, including the Annisquam River. They are not
as meaty as American oysters, which they tend to crowd out.
"Influences from stormwater inputs and watershed development are
quickly degrading the spawning habitats of river herring, smelt, and
their cousins," he said.
Fish such as smelt come in from the ocean to lay their eggs in
estuaries where salt and fresh water meet. As a result of human
development of that habitat, "these sea-run species . . . will be
challenged in the next century," he contended.
Carlisle, a wetlands specialist at the Office of Coastal Zone
Management, said he expects the push to develop the northern
coastline and adjacent wetlands to continue but believes people will
make a greater effort "to preserve and protect those ecosystems that
make their areas unique."
"The buzz words are `smart growth' and `sustainable development,'
" he said. "I don't care what you call it as long as people work to
protect, preserve and in some cases, restore those ecosystems unique
to their communities."
His office, he said, is working with other state and federal
agencies and local groups such as The Trustees of Reservations and
Salem Sound 2000 to help educate citizens on the environment and to
empower them to protect it.
A series of pilot projects from Ipswich to Danvers started last
year have enabled local volunteers to monitor water quality in
estuaries on the North Shore, he said.
"We can see patterns of degradation of salt marshes over the last
century," he said, "from building roads, bridges, and other things
that change or restrict the flow of tidal waters."
"Generally," Carlisle said, "we're getting better at doing the
things we ought to do. We're now protecting salt marsh resources by
engaging in better stormwater management, by looking at buffered
development distance, and by making sure septic systems are up to
"There are many steps along the way. I feel pretty positive about
where we are right now," Carlile added.
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