Mass Audubon Coastal Resilience Program to Support Beaches, Salt Marshes, Coastal Islands
Michael P. O'Connor
LINCOLN, MA. — As rising sea levels and stronger storms present increasing threats to the state’s shorelines, Mass Audubon is developing a new Coastal Resilience Program (CRP) to sustain beaches, salt marshes, coastal islands, and other vulnerable habitats in the face of climate change.
This work also is critical to protecting marsh and shorebirds, which are experiencing some of the highest rates of population loss of any suite of bird species in the world. Coastal waterbirds have experienced a 40 percent decrease in population since 1970, for example.
Protecting such resilient lands is a priority goal of Mass Audubon’s new five-year Action Agenda, and the CRP’s objective is to restore, protect, and manage at least 2,500 acres of critical coastal ecosystems. The statewide conservation organization currently stewards vulnerable habitats on nearly two dozen coastal wildlife sanctuaries from the North Shore to the South Coast, including Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
Much of this land is salt marsh, which helps buffer sea level rise and storm surge. These coastal wetlands also store substantial amounts of carbon, which is important to mitigate climate change impacts.
Keeping these marshes intact is also part of a broader Nature Based Solutions strategy to fight climate impacts, another key element in the Action Agenda.
CRP focus areas include the Great Marsh on the North Shore; coastal islands between Cape Ann and Boston Harbor; Southeastern Massachusetts pine barrens; and salt marshes and beaches from Cape Cod and the Islands to Buzzards Bay.
Leading this effort will be Dr. Danielle Perry, Mass Audubon’s newly appointed Coastal Resilience Program Director, whose training and work in her previous role as Climate Change Adaptation Ecologist have focused on coastal habitats and the crucial role they can play in lessening the effects of a warming planet.
"Our beaches, salt marshes, and coastal islands are on the front lines in the battle against sea level rise," Perry said, "and therefore are susceptible to many of the worst climate impacts, including flooding, erosion, and loss of habitats that support some of our most vulnerable species."
"We are not in this fight alone," she stressed. "The CRP’s important work will rely not only on Mass Audubon’s experienced sanctuary and ecological management teams and our respected Coastal Waterbird Program, but also on external stakeholders and partners, from private landowners to local, state, and federal agencies."
Among Dr. Perry’s responsibilities will be the development of Coastal Resilience Centers at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries situated on or near the coastline, including Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellfleet, Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Plymouth, Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary on Martha’s Vineyard, and Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport.
These centers will serve as living laboratories and educate residents and visitors, community leaders, and policy makers on the threats to our coasts and what is needed to protect these vital natural systems for both people and wildlife. We plan for these centers to promote policies and regulatory reforms that expand the implementation of on-the-ground coastal restoration and management techniques as well as serve as convening places for partners to discuss the latest science and policy for coastal resilience.
"We are very excited to be launching these four new Coastal Resilience Centers within our system of nature centers across the state," Mass Audubon President David O’Neill said. "These will be spaces where we bring people together to share information about natural climate solutions that will benefit coastal communities, as well as vulnerable wildlife and the habitats they depend on."
Mass Audubon is the largest nature-based conservation organization in New England. Founded in 1896 by two women who fought for the protection of birds, Mass Audubon carries on their legacy by focusing on the greatest challenges facing the environment today: the loss of biodiversity, inequitable access to nature, and climate change. With the help of our 160,000 members and supporters, we protect wildlife, conserve and restore resilient land, advocate for impactful environmental policies, offer nationally recognized education programs for adults and children, and provide endless opportunities to experience the outdoors at our wildlife sanctuaries. Explore, find inspiration, and take action at www.massaudubon.org.