Friday, February 24, 2012

Blackwater: Tides of Change

Rarely does one get a chance to see global change expressed any better than in the microcosm of Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve.  Hard to think of 27,000 acres as a microcosm?  Well, consider it in the world perspective, it looks pretty small in contrast.

 Much of Blackwater is composed of rich tidal marshes, ebbing and flowing with the sea.  However sea levels are on the rise and it has become all too apparent at this coastal marsh. These flats once extended well beyond today's boundaries.  The area has been supplemented with silt from dredging operations and under a management plan which includes plantings of vegetation.

Wanting to understand the ecosystem better,  I had conversation with manager who spoke of one of the primary plants used to stabilize the mudflats.
 Spartina alternaflora, Smooth Cordgrass photo courtesy of USDA plants database.

This cordgrass is related to the Prairie Cordgrass, Spartina pectinata we know so well in Ohio.  However, this Spartina is much better suited to rising tides, standing water and increased salinity levels.  It is being used to improve conditions, but the sad fact is:  Blackwater is rapidly losing ground to rising seas. And in the long run this is a losing battle, lost to global warming.

Blackwater NWR is an excellent location for birding, with recent sightings of Golden Eagles among the numerous Bald Eagle routinely found there.  We counted 15 adults and juveniles in the two hours we spent there.

Get to know your National Wildlife Refuges; they are fascinating places.  And while you're at it, buy one of those Duck Stamps to help support these natural areas.

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