One of the most effective ways of protecting the coastline is to preserve surrounding land as open space. Setting aside parcels of upland that abut sensitive coastal habitats, such as estuaries and salt marshes, helps reduce the incremental losses of these ecologically important systems. Many communities have setbacks or buffer zones that retain native vegetation around wetlands, but these strips of land are often insufficient for providing the needed green space. Most of the land surrounding a coastal wetland lies within the watershed of a region and therefore can have a significant effect on the wetland.
For example a woodland around a salt marsh provides many benefits if it is part of a conservation unit. The land protects the wetland from runoff and sedimentation and the vegetation can absorb nutrients such as nitrogen which might otherwise create eutrophication issues in the water. Maintaining contiguous open space to the water’s edge also protects the freshwater drinking water supply. Water landing on the surface in the form of rain or snow continuously recharges the aquifer.
There are considerable advantages for wildlife conservation as well. Some terrestrial animal species may feed in and around a salt marsh area. The added open space provides shelter and habitat for nesting of coastal shorebirds. These areas are often in a migratory flyway for many species particularly in late winter to early spring. Buffering the water from harmful contaminants protects commercial shellfish, crabs, and fish populations. And there are many small and microscopic organisms present in the substrate and water column that are essential to a sustainable food web.
The impact on people is beneficial as well. We need open space for our own peace of mind. These are places for exercise, contemplation, and serenity. We need to get outdoors for a walk or just to look at a bright sunset over a bay. Open space is critical to our survival. Conservation land replenishes the air and water and nurtures our physical and mental health.
We need these lands to get away from the complexities of modern life, even if for a few minutes. We need to clear our heads, breathe fresh air, and stretch our legs. It’s important to many of us that we retain green spaces, that we don’t clear every woodland, fill in every wetland, or pave every field. Regardless of the time of year, conservation land is working for all of us in many ways from the practical to the spiritual. By saving these areas from destruction, we are also undoubtedly saving ourselves.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.