Environmentalists Concerned Over Shrinking Islands in Westport River

By: Tim Studebaker

Facebook: @TStudebakerABC6

Twitter: @TStudebakerABC6

Email: tstudebaker@abc6.com

WESTPORT, MASS. (WLNE) – For the past 15 years, the marshy islands along the Westport River have been shrinking.

Westport River Watershed Alliance Executive Director Deborah Weaver says, “Large sections of the salt marsh have been kind of chunking off and collapsing into the river.”

That has the Westport River Watershed Alliance concerned for the health of the marshlands, along with the plants and animals that call those islands home.  So they brought in salt marsh experts to study the problem.  At first, they suspected nitrogen pollution from septic tanks and fertilizer runoff to be the culprit.

Westport River Watershed Alliance Board Member Katharine Rosenfeld says, “At the upper branches of the river, you actually have a healthier marsh than at the lower and less nitrogen polluted branch, so it does not look at this point as if the nitrogen pollution is an issue.”

Instead, after a trip out onto the marsh, they discovered a different problem.

Weaver says, “Usually when you step out onto a marsh, you know, you can imagine your body sort of sinks into it a little bit.  Well, in this case, the marshes down in that area where there was a lot of marsh breaking off, the marshes were really hard.'”

That dense soil makes it difficult for plants to establish their root systems.  As for why it’s happening, they’re still searching for answers, but believe it’s most likely human caused.

Rosenfeld says, “There’s a lot of things that really could be driving this from the changing currents, perhaps waterline/shoreline development, but that’s the question that we’re trying to answer.  And, from there, hopefully looking at some preservation, conservation, and restoration efforts.”

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2019