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Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC Fellowship Project

Find details on this project conducted for the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

The Great Marsh Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), which was originally called the Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC, includes 25,500 acres of barrier beach, dunes, saltmarsh, and water bodies in Essex, Gloucester, Ipswich, Newbury, and Rowley. In 1999 and 2000, CZM hosted a coastal fellow funded through NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The fellow, Katie Busse, worked with CZM to improve stewardship efforts in this ACEC.

Project Details

The following materials (available as PDF documents) were developed through this project:

  • Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC Resource Inventory (PDF, 8 MB) - This 2000 document identifies resource trends, threats, and opportunities for restoration within this ACEC based on a literature review of published information/and data and interviews with scientists.
  • An Assessment of Resource Management Strategies in the Parker River/Essex Bay Area of Critical Environmental Concern (PDF, 2 MB) - This 2001 report provides an overview of natural resource issues, case studies, and ideas for improved regulatory and nonregulatory management strategies as identified by volunteers and staff from local communities. The report describes this local perspective and identifies approaches for regional management of the area.
  • GIS data for the ACEC - CZM collected information for an ACEC GIS database that would supplement the information already existing in the state's GIS database. Local data layers developed include a more accurate ACEC boundary (PDF, 30 KB), tidal restrictions (PDF, 38 KB), salt marsh restoration sites (PDF, 36 KB), water quality sampling locations (PDF, 30 KB), and no wake zones, mooring areas, and boat pumpout facilities (PDF, 69 KB).
  • Natural resource maps - CZM also created a series of three resource maps for the Great Marsh. The first map (PDF, 1 MB) identifies and illustrates important natural resources, such as salt marsh, vernal pools, river buffers, and endangered species habitat. The second map (PDF, 694 KB) uses this information to identify and highlight areas where these resources overlap. In the third map (PDF, 849 KB), the resource overlay is combined with an open space data layer to show how protected and unprotected open space correlate with resource overlap areas.
  • Monthly column in local newspapers (PDF, 2 MB) - These columns, written by CZM’s coastal fellow, discussed the environmental, economic, cultural, and recreational activities related to ACEC resources.
  • Brochure (PDF, 618 KB) - This publication describes the ACEC, its resources, and partner contact information. The brochure was mailed to local landowners and made available at town hall offices, the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, and Crane Beach during the fellowship project.

Also through this project, CZM also helped to form the Great Marsh Coalition, which is a group of organizations and agencies who continue to work to build a regional consciousness and identity for the Great Marsh. The Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC is part of this larger Great Marsh ecosystem.

Lessons learned through the Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC Project:

  • Coordinating and communicating efforts among diverse entities with regulatory authority, stewardship responsibilities, and resource protection interests in an ecosystem is an ongoing endeavor. Coordination and team building itself can be a full-time job and is a critical piece of the process. It requires an understanding of the roles and perspectives of all stakeholders and sensitivity to conflicting goals and objectives.
  • Partnering proved to be an effective way to share information, target and address problems, design programs, and conduct public outreach. Working with the expertise and experience of multiple agencies and environmental organizations is a good way to bring different perspectives to the table. This approach encourages creative thinking and collaboration when designing approaches for ecosystem management.
  • Interviewing people represents an effective way to pinpoint needs, share information, and understand conflicting viewpoints. Interviews helped uncover creative, transferable approaches to resource management at the local and regional levels. Speaking with people one-on-one was also a way to educate different audiences about potential strategies and tools for resource management.
  • The media is a powerful tool for delivering the message. CZM prepared newspaper articles to reach the general public that detailed not only the ecological significance of resources but also topics of concern to the general citizenry such as the economy, public health, and the cultural and recreational significance of the ACEC. Newspaper articles also provide a mechanism to highlight volunteer opportunities, and events throughout the region and thus promotes an ecosystem approach to outreach.
  • Ongoing management of an ecosystem requires continual follow-up and implementation of new initiatives. For example, as part of the public outreach campaign, the Rowley Conservation Commission distributed the ACEC brochure to all property owners whose land extends into the ACEC and sent a letter to highlight the importance of managing and protecting the natural resources in their backyard. Additional follow-up is needed for initiatives like these in order to determine their effectiveness and future needs in a community. To determine the success of product distribution and outreach efforts, follow-up telephone calls or workshops to further explain and present concepts will help reinforce and expand on information contained in a brochure or report.
  • Training and troubleshooting sessions for tools such as GIS will be more successful if participants have time to experiment with the tools in the field or on the job. One of the most important things to consider with GIS training is that the staff person being trained should have time to become familiar with the data and build on the skills learned in training. From the trainer's perspective, there needs to be a dedicated staff person available to follow-up and answer questions as people get started using GIS data on their own. In addition to providing basic ArcView training, it is helpful for experts to develop GIS training exercises that address resource management issues using natural resource data from the local level. This will help users think about applying their skills and using the data to address resource concerns in their communities.
  • GIS mapping is a powerful tool for visually conveying spatial information at both local and regional scales. Maps show where elements of an ecosystem (i.e., rivers, wetlands, estuaries, forests, etc.) are located and how they overlap. Maps can also demonstrate how activities in one community affect resources far removed from its jurisdictional borders and can give people a sense of how local resources are part of a larger, regional ecosystem. However, care should be taken when interpreting GIS data which is often at different scales and may need to be groundtruthed for accuracy.
  • Data and general information about an ecosystem are rarely located in a single place. Local agencies, boards, and conservation organizations often must spend inordinate amounts of time collecting baseline data to prepare grants, complete regulatory documents such as Environmental Impact Reports, create open space or master plans, or respond to inquiries and development proposals. A resource inventory is an invaluable tool to communities and others involved in resource management and protection. It is important to update inventories periodically to ensure their continued usefulness.

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