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In The News

Project underway to enhance marsh
February 17, 2004, Portland Press Herald
By Jen Fish

YORK — For 40 years, Wheeler Marsh has struggled in its evolution from a mud flat to a saltwater marsh. The area developed into a marsh after dredge spoils from the York River were pumped into roughly 20 acres between Route 103 and Harbor Road in 1961.

Marsh vegetation slowly grew, but the dikes built to contain the dredge spoils and the lack of tidal creeks and pools - which are found in naturally formed marshes - have stymied Wheeler Marsh's development. As a result, parts of the marsh are barren, with little vegetation or wildlife.

Now, a broad coalition of environmental groups is working with the town to help the marsh. The project, funded primarily through a $50,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, aims to transform the marsh to a more natural state.

"What's out there now is a habitat that is not thriving," said Erno Bonebakker, project coordinator. "It's struggling because it doesn't have the optimum conditions for the marsh habitat that has developed there."

The coalition hopes the marsh will become a more viable habitat for wildlife and help improve the health of the York River estuarine system.

"Marshes in general have been, in the United States, dramatically impacted by human activities," Bonebakker said. "By enhancing a habitat that has developed naturally on a manmade site, we are, in effect, substituting what's been lost from other sites nearby through filling and other changes."

The project to enhance Wheeler Marsh has been almost five years in the making, according to Stan Moody of the York Conservation Commission, which is sponsoring the project in collaboration with the York Rivers Association. The project also has received funding and support from organizations including The Wells National Estuarine Association, the Gulf of Maine Aquarium and Ducks Unlimited.

In preparation for the construction that will be done in the marsh, volunteers and other organizations have done many studies and surveys of the area, including tidal water level recordings and computer modeling of what various enhancement plans would bring to the marsh.
Volunteers will continue to monitor the development of the marsh after the construction is completed this winter.

Spillways will be created in the south and west dikes to allow more tidal flow. The dikes now allow only the highest tides into the area. To further help tidal flow, a channel will be developed along the south dike.

Workers also will create 13 pools on the marsh surface to provide habitat for fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants. A starter creek also will be dug, to improve fish access to the marsh.
The small pools will help retain water when the tide recedes from the marsh, creating a refuge for wildlife, Bonebakker says.

Bringing more wildlife back to the marsh has consequences for the area. For example, because fish are unable to live in the marsh, the growth of fresh and saltwater mosquito larvae has gone unchecked.

With the 13 pools, fish will be reintroduced to the marsh and help to control the mosquito population naturally, said the project's biologist, Grace Bottitta.

Beyond that, the marsh project is expected to bring more biodiversity to the area, which, in turn, can only benefit the rest of the York River watershed, said Carol Donnelly of the York Rivers Association.

"It's all part of the whole system," she said.

Staff photo by Gordon Chibroski

Holding a copy of the master plan for the Wheeler Marsh restoration project, Erno Bonebakker, project coordinator, explains how wildlife habitat will be created.



Article © Copyright 2004, Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


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