Author Archives: Mass Audubon

Saving the Salt Marsh with Mussels?

Along the southern shore of the Merrimack River near Joppa Flats Education Center, over a mile stretch of salt marsh is struggling. While it’s uncertain exactly why this salt marsh is degrading, excessive nutrients from the Merrimack River and upstream wastewater treatment plants might be to blame.

The salt marsh behind Joppa Flats

When salt marsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, is overloaded with nutrients, it develops more above-ground biomass and less below-ground biomass, leaving it unstable. Top-heavy and poorly rooted cordgrass can slump over when hit by waves, leading to bank collapse and erosion. This, combined with sea-level rise and increased storm activity, could speed up degradation and eventually lead to total habitat loss.

Protecting salt marshes in this area is vital as they absorb wave energy and reduce storm surges. This stretch of salt marsh is also a valuable habitat that houses more than 220 species of birds, including six rare species and three species with state wildlife action plans (SWAP).

Restoring with Ribbed Mussels

Ribbed Mussels

The ribbed mussel, Geukensia demissa, is the East Coast’s most common salt marsh bivalve and has been used in restoration projects for its ability to filter water, remove phytoplankton, transform nitrogen, and stabilize sediments with its byssal threads. However, surveys have not found any ribbed mussels in the salt marshes on the southern shore of the Merrimack River estuary. This might be from a lack of suitable substrate, poor water quality conditions, or ice scouring.

In October 2022, Mass Audubon relocated mussels from a nearby marsh to the salt marsh at Joppa Flats Education Center on the southern shore of the Merrimack River to test the feasibility of ribbed mussel restoration. Mussel survival and water quality will be monitored through the winter and spring of 2023. If they survive, Mass Audubon will start testing possible materials to grow mussels on and assess different ways to introduce them into the Merrimack River Estuary salt marsh.

Mass Audubon has received funding from the Palmer Foundation to collect data to evaluate the marsh and support the design of a salt marsh restoration approach. Results from the ongoing pilot study and future mussel experiments will be incorporated into the salt marsh restoration design process.

Moving the Action Agenda Forward

We are committed to fostering resilient landscapes across Massachusetts, as outlined in our Action Agenda. Learn more about how we are doing this on the coast via our Coastal Resilience Program and how you can support this important work.

November Climate Champions Update

Climate Champions is a Mass Audubon grassroots volunteer program to advocate for policies that advance nature-based climate solutions. With training from policy experts, Climate Champions advocate for local and state policies that help achieve the state’s goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and reverse negative health impacts of climate change for Environmental Justice communities.    

Climate Champion Spotlight: Diane Juhas 

Diane Juhas 

“I decided to become a Climate Champion volunteer because my entire life I’ve been an environmentalist. I love hiking in the spring and fall, kayaking in the summer, and snow shoeing or cross-country skiing in the winter. My family became Mass Audubon members in 2013 and we have learned so much since joining. As a Climate Champion I am connecting with my community to learn how we can advance Massachusetts’ Clean Energy and Climate Plan and what my hometown is already planning. I met with my state representative at the Beacon Hill Lobby Day to advocate for investments in nature and climate. I submitted my recommendations for the CECP to explore and deploy ocean-based carbon removal solutions since MA has a 1,500-mile coastline. Most recently, with other Climate Champions, I have signed up to phone bank to Get out the Vote with the Environmental Voter Project.”   

How It’s Going 

This fall Climate Champions were invited to give input into the development of Mass Audubon’s legislative and policy priorities for the 2023-2024 legislative session. Mass Audubon uses several inputs and criteria to develop and prioritize bills, including:  

  • a topic’s connection to Mass Audubon’s Action Agenda 
  • an effort’s viability and potential impact  
  • our organizational capacity 
  • whether Mass Audubon’s support or opposition can make a difference in outcomes   

These comprise what we call our “theory of change.” The Climate Champions program is an important element of our theory of change, as it is central to thinking about organizational capacity and impact. Our vision is for Climate Champions to represent a dramatic expansion of Mass Audubon’s ability to affect change. 

Last month Climate Champions were briefed on the legislative process and the basics of a few priority issues, then asked to discuss them and offer suggestions. We are now reviewing all the fabulous feedback as we develop a Legislative Agenda for next year. 

In addition to these roundtable discussions, champions have had the opportunity to: 

  • Submit comments on the state’s drafted outline for the MA Clean Energy and Climate Plan. 
  • Sign up with the Environmental Voter Project to make get out the vote phone calls  
  • Recruit Climate Champions in their own communities. 

What’s Next 

Mass Audubon’s Policy and Advocacy staff will be weighing the shifting landscape of climate advocacy after the election on November 8. We hope to celebrate the passage of the Community Preservation Act in the six towns where it’s on the ballot. We look forward to the Governor signing the long-stalled state economic development bill, which passed the Senate and House last week with investments in open space, recreation, ecological restoration, and climate adaptation. 

Climate Champions will have an opportunity to discuss with Mass Audubon’s policy experts the impacts of the mid-term election on Massachusetts climate advocacy. In addition, champions will be participating in trainings and workshops on recruiting Climate Champions in their own communities. 

Learn More 

Everyone can be a Climate Champion, no matter your time constraints or experience level! Find out more and sign up >