Majority Of RI, MA Coastal Sites Are Vulnerable To Effects Of Climate Change

Nov 5, 2017

A new study recently released by The Nature Conservancy, a global wildlife conservation group, has found the majority of coastal sites, such as wetlands and salt marshes, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 

Scientists assessed nearly 10,000 coastal sites in nine states from Maine to Virginia to determine which areas were "coastal strongholds." Strongholds are salt marshes that have enough space to migrate inland to escape from drowning as sea levels rise. 

In Rhode Island, 337 coastal sites were mapped. About 18 percent, or 62 sites, are considered costal strongholds. Sixty-five scored average for resiliency and the majority, 210 or 62 percent of all the sites mapped in the state, are considered vulnerable to rising sea levels. 

Out of the 1,249 coastal sites mapped in Massachusetts, 26.9 percent are considered strongholds. More than 50 percent are considered to be vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  

Dave Eisenhauer, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said understanding the health of coastal wetlands is important because they benefit humans in many ways. 

“(Wetlands) help protect communities from storms, they’re nurseries for fish and shellfish that we eat, they filter the water we drink and swim in, and they’re beautiful places, and that of course fuels eco-tourism and outdoor recreation that local economies depend on," Eisenhauer said.

Eisenhauer said this study will help state land managers know which coastal wetlands to preserve to prepare for the future effects of climate change. 

John Torgan, state director at Rhode Island's chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said the study will also help land managers know which wetlands need the most attention. 

“Most of the coastal wetlands in Rhode Island and throughout the study area are not strongholds, and so it’s those (vulnerable) places that really deserve our investment in protection and other measures to make sure that they stick around," Torgan said. 

Coastal wetlands are currently threatened by rising sea levels, water pollution and urban development.

Conservancy scientists are now planning to conduct similar studies to identify coastal strongholds along the southeastern coast of the country.