Why Marshes Matter

And why conservation groups like Maine Coast Heritage Trust are working to protect them.

Photograph by David Kitchen
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In Maine’s vast and varied landscape, marshes might not appear to be anything special at first glance. But in the effort to mitigate the impacts of climate change, “marshes are like the holy grail,” says Jeremy Gabrielson, conservation and community planner with Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which has launched a statewide initiative to protect Maine’s most important salt marshes. This is a key component of their multifaceted approach to protecting and strengthening the natural resilience of Maine’s coast in the face of a changing climate. The tall reedy grasses have unique properties that help keep our environment clean and safe in the face of climbing temperatures, rising sea levels, and erratic storms. Plus, marshes provide valuable wildlife habitat. Maine has more marshland than any other state in the Northeast, and about 60 percent of it has been conserved.

1. Breeding Grounds

Marshes provide sheltered spawning and nursery grounds where shellfish like lobster, shrimp, and clams can breed and feed safe from predators. Periwinkles, grasshoppers, and other creatures that are vital parts of the food web also thrive there.

2. Clean Waters

Marshes act as natural purifiers, filtering pollutants out of water before it flows into nearby streams, rivers, and the ocean. As water moves slowly through the marsh grasses, toxins percolate down into soil. Bivalves that live in the marshes also absorb bacteria, heavy metals, and excess nitrogen, removing them from the water.

3. Avian Havens

Marshes are the only place where certain birds, like the Nelson’s sparrow and saltmarsh sparrow, can breed. Other birds, like the great blue heron, snowy egret, osprey, and belted kingfisher, forage for food among the grasses.

4. Carbon Capture

Marsh grasses absorb greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, pulling them out of the atmosphere, effectively reversing a key consequence of global warming. As marshes grow, they store more carbon per acre than forests.

5. Damage Control

As sea levels rise, marshes absorb floodwaters like a sponge, buffer storm surges, and protect nearby roads, homes, and properties from destruction. The wetlands also stabilize the soil, which helps prevent erosion.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust logo

Beyond protecting salt marshes up and down the coast, Maine Coast Heritage Trust is restoring coastal rivers and protecting islands that provide refuge for birds and other vulnerable species. This is all part of their effort to make the coast more resilient to climate change. Learn more about this work at mcht.org/our-work/climate.