Thursday, January 25, 2007

Protection of Georgia's Coastal Marshes
The Georgia coast is "mesotidal," meaning that it has a relatively large "tidal range" between the mean high tide and the mean low tide. In other words, there is a great expanse of brackish to saline marsh, bog, wetland, or however you wish to refer to it. The delicate balance of physical and chemical conditions in these coastal marshes supports extremely diverse assemblages of plants and animals.
As shown in the above figure1, plants in Georgia's coastal marshes are distributed in zones determined by elevation, substrate, water chemistry, and tidal dynamics. In view of their considerable research value2,3,4 to biologists, chemists, and geologists as well as their value in maintaining the chemical and biological health of Georgia's coastal environments, the marshes definitely deserve protection from the rapid development of our coast for tourism, recreation, and other commercial purposes. The Coastal Marshes Protection Act ( O.C.G.A. 12-5-280, et seq.) does just that, providing the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with the authority to protect tidal wetlands. A permit from the DNR Marshlands Protection Committee is required to dredge, fill, or build on any coastal marsh.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, the DNR Coastal Resources Division is currently proposing amended rules for protecting coastal marshes. The state legislature is supposed to be voting sometime this week on these rules, which propose a 25 foot buffer "between the upland component of the project as measured horizontally inland from the coastal marshland-upland interface." The "buffer" appears to be adapted from an approach that has been taken for floodplains of inland waterways. Tidal marshes are considerably more complex. The Sierra Club is claiming that these rules will weaken the protection of the coastal marshes, because lawsuits they are pursuing against developers have yet to be decided in the courts. Similar comments have also been submitted by Jim Stokes, president of the Georgia Conservancy. Stokes notes that recommendations solicited from the Georgia Coastal Research Council, funded by the DNR itself, have not been followed in the amended rules. Hopefully the rules will be rewritten so that they are clear enough to be implemented but strong enough to ensure protection of the coastal marshes.

1Teal, John M., 1962, Energy flow in the salt marsh ecosystem of Georgia. Ecology 43: 614-624.
2Odum, Eugene P., and Smalley, Alfred E., 1959, Population energy flow of two invertebrate species in a salt marsh ecosystem. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 45: 617-622.
3Sherr, Evelyn B., 1982, Carbon isotope composition of organic seston and sediments in a Georgia salt marsh estuary. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 46(7): 1227-1232.
4Alber, Merryl, and Hollibaugh, James T., 2003, Why is the Coastal Marsh Dying? The Network Newsletter 16(2).

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At 11:10 AM , Blogger Greg Laden said...

Hurricane on the Bayou is a great film vague related to this post. It's an Omni film.

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