Making the Coast More Resilient to Climate Change

Salt Marsh Sparrow, Snowshow Hare, Tern

The Problem

So, what is coastal resilience exactly? Coastal resilience is the ability of natural communities to adapt to changing conditions, and to withstand and recover from major natural events, such as hurricane damage and flooding.

Maine’s coast is changing—and fast. Temperatures are rising, impacting our fisheries and those who make a living from the land and sea. Major weather events are becoming increasingly common and sea levels are quickly rising, washing out roads and endangering shorefront property and towns on the coast. Maine people and communities are already feeling the impacts.

Additionally, seventy-five percent of Maine’s native plants and animals are vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. This was the conclusion of a 2014 report by Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. The report, called “Climate Change and Biodiversity in Maine: Vulnerability of Habitats and Priority Species,” [summary] identifies threatened habitats and species.

If we can help make the Maine coast more resilient in the face of climate change today, Maine people and communities will be less impacted by these changes in the decades to come, and native plants and animals will have a better chance of adapting and surviving.

The Solution

Here’s the good news: land conservation is one of the most important and effective methods of reducing the negative impacts of climate change on people, plants, and animals.

A report released in August of 2019 by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that land conservation and management are key to how the world can mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Over the last 50 years, MCHT has helped conserve nearly 160,000 acres in Maine, protecting land along the coast from degradation and shoring up coastal ecosystems in a changing climate. But there’s more work to do yet to protect and care for resilient land and ecosystems along the coast. As the one land trust working along Maine’s entire coast, MCHT is harnessing its 50 years of experience and numerous relationships and partnerships to mobilize coast-wide initiatives to save critical habitat along the coast.

Saving Maine’s Salt Marshes

Old Pond

MCHT is focusing conservation efforts on one of the most critical coastal habitats for threatened plants and animals (including many important commercial fish species): salt marsh.

We’ve launched The Marshes for Tomorrow Initiative, a coast-wide effort to identify marshes currently surrounded by undeveloped land and to protect that land. That way, as sea levels rise, there’s potential for these marshes to migrate inland and reestablish themselves. We’re also working with people, towns, and other organizations to support efforts to restore marsh systems, and make sure they’re working as well as they can.

Saving Maine’s salt marshes doesn’t just help wildlife—it makes human communities more resilient as well. Salt marshes are cleaning the air we breathe and absorbing storm surge and protecting our homes and buildings from destruction.

Our Marshes for Tomorrow Initiative is a coast-wide effort to identify marshes currently surrounded by undeveloped land and to protect that land. That way, as sea levels rise, there’s potential for these marshes to migrate inland and reestablish themselves. We’re also working with people, towns, and other organizations to support efforts to restore marsh systems, and make sure they’re working as well as they can.

Weskeag Marsh

As of December 2020, MCHT has identified 67 priority marshes, and has done some outreach to towns and partner land trusts in all of these places. We’ve completed 22 marsh protection projects and have 36 active projects underway.

In recent years we have protected land surrounding Mount Desert Island’s Jones Marsh, high priority marshes in Old Pond in Hancock, and 133 acres (including a significant amount of salt marsh) on the Weskeag River in South Thomaston. These are just a few of the many projects that MCHT donors have made possible.

Conserving Connected Landscapes

Forbes Pond

We’re also working to protect some of the last places on the East Coast where inland forest stretches all the way to the coast. If we conserve these connected landscapes, as the climate changes wildlife will be able to move to find food. MCHT has protected several large parcels of undeveloped land between Schoodic Mountain and the Schoodic Peninsula.

We have also focused attention on protecting land between Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge and the Cutler Coast Unit, and have made significant progress recently, protecting nearly 3,000 acres in less than two years.

Ultimately, connected landscapes and connected waterways are critical to a healthy Maine coast. That’s why MCHT has launched The Rivers Initiative to support coastal river restoration and fish passage efforts. Sea-run fish, like alewives, play an outsized role in Maine’s food chain. When they’re numerous, other Maine fish, birds, and mammal are more numerous.

Alewives

As of December 2020, MCHT has completed nine conservation projects related to river restoration, protecting just over 3,700 acres and including three completed fishways. One area of focus has been the Bagaduce River Watershed, where MCHT has played a critical role in restoring the sea-run fish population.

None of this work is possible without the ongoing support of donors and people who love the Maine coast. Please help us keep Maine’s coast resilient to climate change.

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Photo credits: Salt Marsh Sharp-Tailed Sparrow by Wolfgang Wander via Creative Commons. Snowshoe Hare by Robb Hannawacker via Flickr Public Domain.