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Habitat Monitoring Protocols

Seagrass - Salt Marsh - Anadromous Fish Habitat

Salt Marsh

Monitoring involves systematic data collection that provides information on the progress of restoration projects and allows restoration practitioners to determine if project goals have been met. Monitoring involves the measurement of a number of attributes or parameters at regular intervals to record changes. A salt marsh restoration site should be monitored until it appears mature and self-sustaining, which could take years to decades. Salt marsh restoration sites should be paired with "undisturbed" reference wetlands for monitoring. Ideally, reference sites should be used for collection of baseline data as well. Reference sites should be similar to restoration sites in terms of geomorphology, tidal range, and elevation.

Suggested parameters to be monitored at salt marsh restoration and reference sites include:

Currently, Save The Bay is involved in the development of standardized monitoring protocols for salt marsh restoration projects throughout Rhode Island. Two monitoring programs and approaches for salt marsh restoration projects are detailed online below.

Neckles, H.A. and M. Dionne, Editors. 1999. Regional Standards to Identify and Evaluate Tidal Wetlands Restoration in the Gulf of Maine. Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve Technical Report, Wells, Maine.

View report (PDF)

Niedowski, N. L. 2000. New York State Salt Marsh Restoration and Monitoring Guidelines. New York Department of State, Albany, N.Y. and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, East Setauket, N.Y.

View report (PDF)

Duration of Monitoring
Availability of funds and resources often limits the duration that salt marsh restoration projects can be monitored, however the duration and frequency of monitoring must be sufficient for a determination of functional equivalency with reference sites. Neckles and Dionne (1999) recommend monitoring salt marsh restoration projects at one year, two years, and three to five years post-restoration.

The principles of Adaptive Management have been incorporated into the administration of habitat restoration projects within a variety of governmental funding authorities and programs (Thom 1997). Comprehensive, long-term monitoring is a component of adaptive management, which relies on the accumulation of evidence (via long-term monitoring) to support a decision that demands action. If established early in the project planning phase and implemented during successive monitoring and management phases, adaptive management can be a powerful method to systematically assess and improve the performance of restored ecosystems (Thom 2000).

A well-designed restoration monitoring program will allow project managers to detect deviation from projected results months, years, or decades following construction. For example, yearly monitoring of a restored salt marsh might reveal encroachment by Phragmites or other invasive plant species. Hydrologic monitoring may reveal deficiencies in the design of a culvert or water control structure, which may result in insufficient drainage. Manual harvesting or chemical control may be periodically required to control the spread of invasive plants. The specific design features of a culvert or water control structure may require enhancement or modification during successive years to optimize tidal flow patterns

Monitoring data can be used by project managers to demonstrate the ability of the project to meet stated goals and objectives. This is especially important in promoting the benefits of salt marsh restoration to funding agencies, potential partners or sponsors for future restoration projects, and the general public. Finally, long-term monitoring data allows managers to learn from early projects, and avoid potential pitfalls in successive restoration efforts (Thom and Wellman 1997).

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Neckles, H. and M. Dionne. 1999. Regional standards to identify and evaluate tidal wetland restoration in the Gulf of Maine. A GPAC Worksop, June 2-3, 1999. Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, Wells, Maine.

Thom, R.M. 1997. System-development matrix for adaptive management of coastal ecosystem restoration projects. Ecological Engineering 8:219-232.

Thom, R.M. 2000. Adaptive management of coastal ecosystem restoration projects. Ecological Engineering 15:365-372.

Thom, R.M. and K.F. Wellman. 1997. Planning aquatic ecosystem restoration monitoring programs. Evaluation of Environmental Investments Research Program, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources, IWR Report 96-R-23, Alexandria, Virginia.

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Project Partner web pages - RIHRT, CRMC, NBEP, STB

This site was created through a partnership of the:

Coastal Resources Management Council
Narragansett Bay Estuary Program
Save The Bay®