Efforts to plant marsh grass along eroding shorelines are often undone by fierce winds, tides and long fetches that conspire to rip up young seedlings. However, a pilot project recently completed on the Kent Narrows shoreline will provide better protection for seedlings by planting them in specialized biodegradable burlap bags known as Bay-Saver Bags.
If the program is successful, it could be introduced in other parts of the state’s vast coastal wetlands.
More than 30 volunteers recently joined environmental engineers on a cool Sunday morning to plant marsh grass along an eroding shoreline at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville. Assembled by the Restore the Earth Foundation, Bay Saver Bags were filled with a custom mix of soil and composted humus that will feed and stabilize the native plants installed.
Founders of the Ithaca-based foundation — Marv and P.J. Marshall — were on hand to show volunteers how to use the bags on a 170-foot stretch of Kent Narrows shoreline. A double row of bags were buried flush with the surface of the coastal wetland, then slit open to plant three seedlings of Spartina alterniflora or Smooth Cordgrass , a native marsh grass. The volunteers, including several from CBEC’s Legacy Institute For the Environment class, spent several hours hauling 225 bags to the shoreline and planting 675 plant seedlings over a 2,000 square foot area.
Mrs. Marshall said the bags, first developed by the Army Corps of Engineers, give the plants nutrients and stability from incoming tides and waves. They have been used since 2008 on many coastal sites, including the Gulf Coast.
The project is being managed pro-bono by New Jersey-based Matrix New World Engineering. It was funded by a grant from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
Lawrence Malizzi, vice president of Matrix, said, “The goal of this pilot project is to demonstrate that the Bay-Saver Bags are a useful method to create living shorelines along the Chesapeake Bay by reducing erosion and sequestering carbon.”
The newly planted Spartina plugs, once established, will begin to spread throughout the project site within 4 months. Monitoring efforts at CBEC will continue for 5 years and baseline data will be gathered on the long-term effectiveness of the Bay-Saver Bags as a restoration tool and its ability to aid in sequestering carbon.
Vicki Paulas, assistant director at CBEC, said, “CBEC has aided numerous scientists, colleges and corporations in researching and testing cutting edge tools and techniques that can advance Bay restoration. I think the Bay-Saver Bags could be lower cost alternative for shoreline restoration and a better solution for stabilization and growth rate acceleration versus bare plug plantings.”