Home page Restoring Coastal Habitats
for Rhode Island's Future
Site Search

Our Mission

Your Feedback

Introduction to Restoration

Funding, Contacts & Other Tools

Project Inventory

Spatial Data, Maps & Models

Volunteer & Educational Resources

Technical & Scientific Resources
  RI Restoration Bibliography
Project Planning
Restoration Methods
Design Considerations
Habitat Monitoring
Cost Analysis

About the Habitat Restoration Team Related Sites

Project Planning

Seagrass - Salt Marsh - Anadromous Fish Habitat

Salt Marsh

Salt marsh restoration has received much attention in coastal engineering. This is likely due to the considerable acreage of salt marsh that has been lost along U.S. coastlines, recent recognition of the important functions provided by salt marshes, and the relative ease in which tidal marsh vegetation can be propagated at restored sites. It is important to distinguish between "restoration" and "creation" of coastal habitats, although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Restoration generally refers to projects in which an area is returned to a close approximation of some natural or known historical condition. In salt marshes, this may involve removal of dikes, berms, and fill material, or installation of culverts under roadways to reestablish the historic tidal flows. Marsh creation is often a component of the restoration process, especially in projects involving the removal of fill and/or regrading of adjacent uplands to intertidal elevations.

Site Selection | Goals & Objectives | Baseline Data | Funding | Permitting

Site Selection
It is important to carefully consider and prioritize the selection of salt marsh restoration sites. Because funds for restoration are limited, it is essential that the site selection process generates a list of alternatives that offer the best chance of achieving the greatest output, both in terms of acreage restored, and the degree of function achieved.

A proposed salt marsh restoration project should:

  • Be consistent with the geography and land-use patterns of the study area.
  • Avoid or minimize negative impacts to existing aquatic and terrestrial habitats in the vicinity of the restoration area, including plants and animals, and historic resources.
  • Address the concerns and desires of the local community.
  • Be consistent with federal, state, and local regulatory agency requirements and policies.

Analyses of current and projected land-use patterns, and socioeconomic factors are necessary and may be a critical factor in the final selection of possible restoration sites. Cooperation from landowners and municipalities, and the development of a positive public perception of habitat restoration are necessary to achieve success on a landscape-level scale (USACE-NED 2002).

There are several efforts currently underway in Rhode Island to develop methods of identifying, prioritizing, and selecting sites at which to conduct salt marsh restoration. The Narragansett Bay Reverse Trends Analysis Project is a cooperative project among the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (NBEP), the University of Rhode Island's Environmental Data Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the University of Massachusetts' Natural Resource Assessment Group. The project is developing planning tools for habitat restoration in Narragansett Bay. The trend analysis involves careful interpretation of aerial photography over a long time scale (decades) to measure historical changes in wetland loss and determine accurate acreage statistics.

NBEP is developing a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database and maps showing the locations of potential restoration sites throughout Narragansett Bay. The GIS database and maps will be used by coastal managers to prioritize habitat restoration projects in Narragansett Bay. The NBEP is also mapping critical habitat resources in Narragansett Bay. This process began with the formation of an aquatic habitat mapping subcommittee, with representatives from academia, federal and state agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGO). The committee will evaluate existing maps and plan future mapping projects. The current focus is on eelgrass and salt marsh habitat.

A salt marsh habitat siting tool for Narragansett Bay is in development and will be available from this Web site. This GIS-based model will use the wetland data developed by NBEP and will include ecological and socioeconomic data. More details on the tool and its availability for use in restoration planning can be accessed in the Salt Marsh Site Selection Tool section.

A considerable number of potential locations for salt marsh restoration are present throughout Narragansett Bay and along Rhode Island's South Shore. Evaluation of site-specific factors (e.g., presence of invasive plant species, history of dredged material or other fill placement, hydrologic restriction, ownership, adjacent land use, etc.) would result in a prioritization or ranking of potential sites to be considered for funding. The Salt Marsh Site Selection Tool can be a valuable aid in the site screening and prioritization process.

Defining Project Goals and Objectives
It is important to determine the goals and objectives of a salt marsh restoration project at the outset. Salt marsh restoration projects that lack clearly defined goals and objectives are less likely to achieve success, and in many cases it may be impossible to gauge success in the absence of a clearly defined project plan. Clear goals and objectives assist in communicating restoration plans to potential funding sources, agency partners, and the general public.

Project goals refer to the ecosystem attributes to be restored, such as water quality, hydrology, plant communities, or fish and wildlife resources. Goals are general statements about the desired project results, and provide a general framework for the project. An example goal for a salt marsh restoration project might be to "restore the native plant community (e.g., Spartina species) and limit the presence of invasive species (e.g., Phragmites)."

Project objectives are more precise, and may include the specific characteristics of water quality, hydrology, or plant and animal communities to be restored. Performance indicators are developed during the life of the project and represent measurable characteristics such as nitrogen concentration in soil porewaters, Phragmites height and stem density, or the number of killifish per unit area of marsh surface. Performance indicators are quantitative, and are used to determine whether or not a salt marsh restoration project will meet predetermined success criteria. These are the targeted outputs, which are agreed upon and developed by a team consisting of the project's proponents and any outside experts or consultants. For example, if the goal of a project is to reduce or eliminate Phragmites, the success criteria might be the number of acres of marsh that have been recolonized by Spartina species at 3, 5, and 10 years post-restoration. The failure of a project to meet these acreage targets would be cause for reevaluation and perhaps, implementation of corrective measures at the site (Pastorok et al. 1997, Weinstein et al. 1997).

Environmental factors to be considered in the formulation of goal statements or project objectives include hydrologic conditions, surrounding land-use patterns, connectivity to natural wetlands or other adjacent ecosystems, and evaluation of various wetland functions. Enhancement of certain functions (e.g., habitat for estuarine-dependent fisheries) may be a primary objective of many salt marsh restoration projects; however, designing a project to maximize the output of one particular function may involve a trade-off with other functions (e.g., bird and wildlife habitat or shoreline stabilization).

Baseline Data Collection
Detailed site characterizations are needed to formulate site-specific restoration plans and to develop success criteria for individual projects. Examples of baseline data that are collected during pre-restoration baseline surveys may include:

  • surface topography and elevation
  • water table depth
  • surface water level
  • surface and groundwater quality
  • soil organic matter and water content
  • plant species distribution and cover
  • benthic invertebrate communities
  • utilization of the marsh by finfish and crustaceans
  • utilization of the marsh by wildlife

For more details on how these data are collected, please see Habitat Monitoring.

Many of these parameters are included in some of the standardized wetland assessment methods that have been developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), USFWS, and other agencies. For example, the USFWS Habitat Evaluation Procedure (HEP) requires input of data on select animal species that could potentially benefit from the cover available at a particular site (e.g., a salt marsh slated for restoration). Numerical models are constructed to evaluate the variables which determine habitat suitability for a particular species. The outputs of the procedure are habitat suitability of each cover type identified and the entire study area for the desired species (USFWS 1980, Bartoldus 1999).

The USACE and other federal agency partners are currently developing the Hydrogeomorphic Approach to Assessing the Function of Wetlands. This method is being developed to assist in the evaluation of wetland impacts under the USACE's Section 404 Regulatory Program, and to assist in the planning of restoration projects that may be outside the realm of Section 404. The Hydrogeomorphic Approach, like HEP, is also based on numerical modeling and relies on data inputs on a variety of topics, including surface and groundwater hydrology, sediment stabilization and shoreline erosion, wetland plant community structure, fish and invertebrate communities, and wildlife utilization (Brinson 1993, Shafer and Yozzo 1998, Bartoldus 1999).

Additional methods, often developed on a state-by-state basis, combine aspects of functional assessment with societal indicators, integrating ecological and human values into a single assessment procedure. A local example is the Narragansett Bay Method, recently developed by Save The Bay. This assessment protocol has been adapted from a number of coastal wetland assessment techniques and has been used to characterize the health and ecological integrity of salt marshes throughout Rhode Island. Volunteers have been used to conduct many of the assessments. The specific emphasis of the Narragansett Bay Method is to determine the extent to which salt marshes have been impacted by human activities (Save The Bay 2002).

Funding Opportunities
The costs of restoration are largely dependent on site-specific conditions and the types of restoration and monitoring activities planned for a project (see Cost Analysis for details). A variety of federal, state, and private funding opportunities are available to support salt marsh restoration in Rhode Island. These funds are available to a wide range of organizations, including state and local agencies, private landowners, and NGOs. A comprehensive list of funding opportunities for salt marsh restoration in Rhode Island is available from this site in the Funding Opportunities section.

Restore America's Estuaries (RAE), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving estuaries throughout the U.S., has developed an on-line electronic database called Funding for Habitat Restoration Projects: A Citizens Guide. The guide is intended to help individuals, organizations, and agencies access federal assistance in support of community-based habitat restoration. The database can be queried by program, agency, or funding amount.

Permitting and Regulatory Considerations
Agencies, NGOs, or individuals proposing the restoration of salt marshes in Rhode Island must secure a variety of permits prior to construction of the project. A USACE Clean Water Act section 404 permit and a DEM freshwater wetlands permit or Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) permit, depending on the jurisdiction within which the proposed project is located, may be required. A DEM water quality certification is required for all coastal habitat projects that result in the discharge of dredged material or fill into state waters. A Federal 401 water quality certification may also be required.

Salt marsh restoration projects that involve application of herbicides to control invasive plants (e.g., Phragmites) would require permission from the DEM Division of Agriculture. All salt marsh restoration projects conducted in Rhode Island must be evaluated by DEM for consistency with the state's Coastal Zone Management (CZM) program. Evaluation of a proposed salt marsh project by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and USFWS would be conducted through review of the USACE Section 404 Permit.

A list of specific information required to complete a programmatic general permit application and a copy of the CRMC permit application is available in the Permitting Process section of this Web site.

Return to Top


Bartoldus, C.C. 1999. A comprehensive review of wetland assessment procedures: A guide for wetland practitioners. Environmental Concern, Inc., St. Michaels, Maryland.

Brinson, M.M. 1993. A hydrogeomorphic classification for wetlands. Wetlands Research Program Technical Report WRP-DE-4. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg. Mississippi.

Pastorok, R.A., A. MacDonald, J.R. Sampson, P. Wilber, D.J. Yozzo, and J.P. Titre. 1997. An ecological decision framework for environmental restoration projects. Ecological Engineering 9:89-107.

Save The Bay. 2002. "Narragansett Bay Method" Web page (http://www.savebay.org/bayissues/narr_bay_method.htm).

Shafer, D.J., and D.J. Yozzo. 1998. National guidebook for application of hydrogeomorphic assessment to tidal fringe wetlands. Wetlands Research Program Technical Report WRP-DE-16, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

USACE-NED. 2002. Rhode Island South Shore Habitat Restoration Feasibility Report and Environmental Assessment (Draft). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, Concord, Massachusetts.

USFWS. 1980. Habitat Evaluation Procedure (HEP) Manual (102 ESM). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.

Weinstein, M.P., J.H. Balletto, J.M. Teal, and D.F. Ludwig. 1997. Success criteria and adaptive management for a large-scale wetland restoration project. Wetlands Ecology and Management 4:111-127.

Return to Top

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®