Delaware's coastal marshes are falling the rise in sea level.
In some areas, the marsh is disappearing. At the 16,000-acre Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, for example, as much as 1,160 acres of interior marsh has vanished since 1979. In its place: water. ...Two researchers lost 30 years worth of data on the Chesapeake's bay grasses in an office fire.
"It's approaching a crisis at the refuge," said David Carter, environmental program manager with the Delaware Coastal Management Program. "We're really looking at an early indication of problems."
Scientists in Delaware and throughout the region are trying to figure out why some salt marshes -- both here and elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic -- are thriving and others are in trouble. ...
Tidal salt marshes are one of Delaware's most unique and valuable ecosystems, providing a refuge and forage area for dozens of bird species, a nursery ground for fish and a habitat for muskrats. But once inundated with water, the grasses -- the glue that holds the wetland together -- die off. Without the grass, sediment slips away and the marsh disappears. Once the marsh is gone, upland residents lose a natural sponge that helps minimize flooding and a filter that buffers the impact of pollution on the Delaware Estuary.
Once a wetland is gone, Carter said, it is expensive and difficult to bring it back. One possible fix may be to spray sediment over the marsh, much like sand is added to the beach to compensate for erosion and rising sea level. Carter said more work is needed to better understand where Delaware's troubled salt marshes are and how best to restore and repair them.
Bay grasses are crucial habitat for crabs, small fish and other marine life. They were once so plentiful that boaters routinely complained to natural resources officials that the plants were clogging their propellers. But since 1972, when Tropical Storm Agnes dropped millions of tons of sediment into the bay, the grasses have struggled for life against an increasing tide of pollution and runoff. ...
Investigators from the state fire marshal's office have not determined what caused the blaze, which caused an estimated $550,000 in damage at the sprawling Horn Point scientific campus along the Choptank River. ...
The 25-foot-by-40-foot trailers, meant to be temporary offices and to house computer equipment, had become fixtures since they were installed in the mid-1980s, said laboratory director Michael Roman. With data and backup servers stored in one of the buildings, the researchers never imagined a fire would destroy both trailers, which sat about 10 feet apart.
"As a scientist, you collect data, write it in a notebook, then type it into a computer," Roman said. "There's no question that their research was irreplaceable. It's hard to resurrect."