In honor of Worldwide Wetlands Day 2020, I thought I’d post an article I wrote for the EPA’s Office of Water during my time at the National Environmental Education Foundation.
A budding romance, a wedding, and an elementary science fair project. These are all events that sprung from a recent volunteer event in Texas, revolving around planting native marsh grasses to restore the habitats around Galveston Bay. The actions of these volunteers not only brought joy to their own lives, but also helped protect the surrounding community.
“Marshes are a transitional zone between water and land,” explains Emily Ford, volunteer programs coordinator for the Galveston Bay Foundation. They are also critical habitats for life—like fish and other seafood—in and around the bay. “About 90% of all seafood in the US begins life in a marsh or estuary, such as Galveston Bay.” While these areas are important for wildlife and the environment, they are also necessary for people. Ford sums it up by saying, “If you like to go swimming in the bay or fishing, then it’s important for you to protect the marsh.”
However, human impacts have taken a toll on the marshes surrounding Galveston Bay. “We are more connected than we realized—everything we do can impact the bay, particularly marshes,” says Ford. “Marshes would act as a buffer, but the more they shrink, the more impacts [they have] inland.” Galveston Bay historically acted as a buffer for the surrounding Houston area, but the damage to the marshes possibly added to the destruction caused by storms, such as the devastating Hurricane Harvey. This problem extends beyond the Texas coastline; as Ford puts it, “shorelines are eroding everywhere you go.”
The Galveston Bay Foundation set out to find a solution through an event called Marsh Mania. Dedicated to the restoration of the marshes surrounding Galveston Bay, volunteers from the greater Houston area spent a day planting native marsh grasses. “You can see such a difference—it’s just blossomed into this blooming, thriving [place], eroded shorelines all covered with marsh,” exclaims Ford. So far, the project has brought back 210 acres of salt marsh in 95 different locations, using the help of over 8,000 volunteers. And the volunteers have fun. Ford dives into anecdotes of couples that met at Marsh Mania events, a wedding that took place at one of the restored sites, and a boy who took his love for the marsh and turned it into his school science project. As Ford tells it, there is “a lot of heart, love, and appreciation over connecting more with Galveston Bay and understanding how they’re part of the community.” The best part? “People from any walk of life can do this…[with] trained volunteers in the marsh to help.”
“Our shorelines are always in need of help,” emphasizes Ford. You can get involved in restoration efforts of the marshes near you as part of National Estuary Week. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even meet your future spouse!