Coastal wetlands get help in Delaware

DU helps protect wetlands from rising sea levels

Rising sea levels from climate change are inundating Delaware’s coastal wetlands with more water than they can handle, damaging valuable Atlantic Flyway waterfowl migration spots.

These coastal conditions provide new conservation challenges for Ducks Unlimited and our partners. A recent example of new solutions saw Ducks Unlimited team up with Delaware Wild Lands to save a freshwater wetland from the effects of salt water intrusion along Delaware Bay in the central part of the state.

The project site, located on lands owned by Delaware Wild Lands, consisted of two degrading wetlands, coastal forest and marginally productive agricultural land.

“The area was once comprised of healthy freshwater wetland vegetation, and was robust and active for both waterfowl habitat and water quality benefits,” said Kate Hackett, Delaware Wild Lands executive director.

Traditionally these wetlands received rainwater runoff from the landscape, flooding during wetter periods of the year, and dried when precipitation was limited. However, higher sea levels, paired with increasing storm surge events, mean salt water is entering these freshwater environments.

“Saltwater came in and increased the salinity, killing vegetation and trees,” Hackett said.

As part of a $1 million North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant for Delaware projects, Ducks Unlimited installed berms and low-cost, low-maintenance infrastructure to help keep out the saltwater.

“The water-control structure we installed allows managers to mimic natural wetland cycles and also rapidly expel saltwater when it enters the wetland,” said Jake McPherson, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist for Delaware.

The enhancement work also expanded the restored area and wetland complex from 8 to 13 acres.

This project wrapped up the Delaware NAWCA grant, awarded in 2014. The grant was matched by more than $2 million in private funds from multiple conservation partners, with the original goal to preserve, restore or enhance more than 1,100 acres. The program has grown since 2014 to include 3,100 throughout the state.

Partnering with organizations like Delaware Wild Lands allows nonprofit conservation organizations to leverage resources and accomplish conservation goals not possible individually.

“Our organizations have core values that are similar and we get to see first-hand the on-the-ground benefits of this partnership,” Hackett said.  “Because of ongoing climate change, these fixes are not going to last forever. But it will provide an important stepping stone throughout this process as waterfowl and other birds continue their migrations.”