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CZM Coastal Habitat Program - Coastal Wetland Monitoring and Assessment

Find an overview of Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) efforts to monitor coastal wetlands and track changes through time.

The legacy of urban development and other human activities has resulted in significant loss and alteration of wetlands in the United States. While this direct destruction has been dramatically curtailed with regulatory protection, adverse effects from indirect sources—such as contamination from stormwater runoff and nutrients—continue to degrade wetlands. The changing climate and rising sea levels are also predicted to profoundly impact coastal wetlands and their critical functions. To evaluate the impact of these factors, CZM’s coastal wetland monitoring and assessment efforts include these current and past projects, listed in the Table of Contents.

Table of Contents

Sentinel Site Monitoring Program

CZM established the Sentinel Site Monitoring Program in 2015 to track changes in salt marsh vegetation as an indicator of rising sea levels. All monitoring is conducted under a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To date, CZM has established sentinel sites in salt marshes in Essex, Barnstable, and Westport, where plant species, abundance, and percent cover are recorded, along with physical data including the duration, depth, and frequency of tidal inundation. Data is collected in 3-5-year intervals to track changes over time. Results from sentinel site monitoring will be shared on this website as they are finalized.

Estuarine Marsh Trends Assessment

Published in 2005, this report describes an investigation of estuarine marsh trends conducted by CZM and project partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Massachusetts Department of Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences. The focus of the investigation was estuarine marshes including tidal emergent and tidal shrub-scrub wetlands, commonly known as salt marshes, in Boston Harbor, Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands. The study goal was to inform coastal managers on recent and historic trends of estuarine marshes, providing information and context for the development and implementation of assessment, conservation, and restoration strategies. The study report, 100 Years of Estuarine Marsh Trends in Massachusetts (1893 to 1995): Boston Harbor, Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands(PDF, 4 MB), describes the methods and results of the trend analysis and offers brief discussion on the findings.

A Volunteer's Handbook for Monitoring New England Salt Marshes

A Volunteer's Handbook for Monitoring New England Salt Marshes (PDF, 5 MB) was published in 2003 as a tool to help local groups collect and record data in a consistent and scientifically sound manner on the animals and plants that live in salt marsh habitats and the factors that may degrade habitat quality.

CZM Wetland Assessment Projects Completed from 1995-2016

Since 1996, EPA has encouraged states to develop monitoring and assessment methods for wetlands and to begin reporting on wetland condition, similar to efforts required for statewide water quality conditions. CZM has actively worked to advance wetland assessment methods and approaches for coastal systems and to assist the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) with the development and implementation of a statewide wetlands monitoring and assessment program. See CZM Wetland Assessment Projects Completed from 1995-2016 for more information on CZM’s wetland assessment work during this timeframe and how these methods have evolved through time. For direct links to the individual projects, see:

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