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The Great Marsh Classroom
with Liz Duff and Lori LaFrance

Session Date Rough Edit Transcript Tight Edit Youtube Posting
8/14/13 8/28/13 1/14 2/10 2/14

Ipswich High School Great Marsh Science Class

Transect 1 is located up-stream from from the culvert that was reconstructed in 2004. Before restoration there was an average of about 9 meters of Phragmites. Today we have about 4. Two of which contain immature Phragmites. The Phragmites found in the later half of the transect, in meters 20 through 30, have been completely eliminated after the installation of the new culvert.

Mass Audubon Salt Marsh Science Project started in 1996 when local teachers wanted to connect their students to local ecosystems and help them learn more about their own backyard.

Many of the techniques that were used by professional scientists were things that middle school and high school students could do. The study of Phragmites, which is an invasive plant and a threat to local ecosystems.

Phragmites often grows in places where tidal flow has been blocked. Where roads or railroads were built through a marsh that creates conditions that that favor the growth of Phragmites. We selected sites that had tidal restrictions and were high priorities for restoration with the intent of monitoring before and after restoration. Each year a different class comes out to collect that data and it's a contribution to the wider community.

Town Farm Road is right here, there is a little creek that runs underneath the road. And the creek is the fresh water coming into the estuary, so it's coming this way. From a fresh water river. And it's headed out to the ocean.

One set of wells on the ocean side, that is a control. They called this part transect zero. Over here and we have transect three. And we have transect one. And we have transect two. Transects one, two and three are affected by the culvert that goes underneath the road, so there is human impact to transects one, two and three. No human impact to transect zero, that's why it's our control group.

And it grew from those first original two schools to about a dozen schools around the Great Marsh and as far south as as Boston, monitoring salt marshes in their own town.

So it became a part of the Plum Island Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research with funding from the National Science Foundation.

You've got one to float and one to sink and one to hover. So, why does this happen? Why would the grape in the fresh water sink to the bottom? Bretta? Because it's more dense than the water. And so therefore, why then would the grape that floated? It's less dense than the salt water. So is salt water more dense, or less dense then fresh water? More, thank you, yes. So salt water is more dense than fresh water.

The reason we did this, this morning, is because we are going to be measuring salinity when we go out in the marsh on Friday and I want you to compare it to the the past 17 years.

People took these PVC pipes and put them at varying heights. OK, so we have a deep well, and that's going to stick up most out of the ground but it's also going down deepest into the ground. We have a medium well and we have a shallow well. The way we're going to measure the salinity of the water that's collected in the well through these tiny little holes, and the bottoms are capped off, the water at this level will through into the deep well and we'll be able to measure it by taking off the cap. We're going to feed [rubber tubing] down into the well. Just like you can with a straw, you can pinch that off so that the water stays in the rubber tubing. And now we have our sample water.

Putting on a couple drops of water. And this is the right side that we're going to read. And what will happen is you'll see a line. Everything above that will be blue. And everything below it will be white. And that line where the white meets the blue is the reading.

32 to 35 parts per thousand is ocean water. So the fresh water would be zero parts per thousand. And we're going to be working somewhere in the middle here. In brackish water.

I’m going to ask you for some thoughts as to what we might expect to find in shallow, medium and deep. And what we might expect to find in Phragmites, transition and native grasses.

When we first started studying this transect, that set of wells was in a monoculture of Phragmites, meaning there was nothing but Phragmites growing there. It was all Phragmites. And this set of wells was on the edge of the patch of Phragmites. So you can just picture that patch all the way up to here. You can even just look at the wells and say things have changed a lot! I believe this happen since the increased water flow came from the widening of the culvert.

32 is the shallow. Medium was 30 and deep 25? Right, OK. And this was the zone where we think that Phragmites has the hardest time growing. It can really dominate if its like less than 18. So, doing pretty well here.

21 meters of the 30 meter transect was either bare or completely submerged with no plant life at all. This ponding could be due to run-off from the road which is close by or it could be due in part to changes in sea level.

Salinity here ranges from 20 to 35 parts per thousand with an average of 28.8, so it is actually higher than the reference point.

Transect 3 had the greatest effect from the culvert. Phragmites at this transect were in decline since the culvert was widened in 2004 and there were completely eliminated in 2009.

Over all the answer to our question if the improvement to the culvert had made a difference at our two sites is a resounding Yes! On Town Farm Road we have seen huge declines in two out of three transects with one transect being clear of Phragmites for the fifth consecutive year.

These results support our hypothesis that the increase in tidal flow due to the widen culvert helps to keep the Phragmites from taking over and helps to keep our native plants healthy.

Mass Audubon's mission is protecting the nature of Massachusetts and it's been really helpful to have local students involved in this Mass Audubon Salt Marsh Science Project to help us to monitor the health of local salt marshes and keep an eye on them over time. And because it has become a part of local school curriculum it is on going. There is a lot of science research projects that end just after a couple of years. So to have 17 years of data is really exceptional.

Danger in the Reeds is being produced by Staddles Productions
with the help of Dr Gregg Moore, Peter Phippen and Geoff Walker.

We would all like to express our graditude to our many Kickstarter supporters
without whom this project would not be possible.

Rick Hydren  ~ Office: 978-948-3346, Cell: 508-954-1298
PO Box 715, Rowley MA 01969


Portrait Photography ~ Real Estate Photography