— 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
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.
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
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."
coalition hopes the marsh will become a more viable habitat
for wildlife and help improve the health of the York River
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
all part of the whole system," she said.
Staff photo by Gordon Chibroski
a copy of the master plan for the Wheeler Marsh restoration
project, Erno Bonebakker, project coordinator, explains how
wildlife habitat will be created.