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With a focus on its tidal wetlands and sub aquatic vegetation beds, Betsy Blair, the Regional Marine Habitat Manager for the Hudson River Estuarine Research Reserve, an arm of the Department of Environmental Conervation, identified the biggest concern in the face of climate change to be the potential to lose the vital natural communities that exist along the Hudson River. “Our place within the DEC is really being stewards of the Hudson River’s aquatic habitats. I see a very real threat.” With hard engineering (structures like steel sheet piles, concrete slabs, and timber cribs—basically, containers filled with rocks) along 41 percent of the Hudson River’s shoreline, the marshes are becoming less able to keep pace with rising tides. As the wave energy hits the sediment beds, then bounces off these hard elements and washes over the beds again with increasing force, erosion is compounded. Tidal marshes are extremely important ecologically: to fish for spawning, nurseries, and foraging habitat; to birds for breeding and nesting; to the river’s health by pumping oxygen back in and removing sediments; as well as to us in sequestering carbon and protecting the shorelines from erosion. Blair worried, “The sea level rise estimates are, if we actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions, maybe 4 to 21 inches. If we do business as usual, the estimates are something like 8 to 33 inches. So it really depends on where we fall into that range.” With invasive species like Zebra Mussels stripping the water of algae, microscopic plants and animals, and even dead plant material, the river’s whole food web and oxygenation is based on what’s being produced right now in the wetlands and in submerged aquatic vegetation beds. One of the things the Research Reserve is working on is to look at shorelines and strategize what can be done to mitigate the erosion that’s going to be associated with sea level rise, and preserve these important natural communities.
In keeping with the Hudson Valley’s strong commitment to community effort and collaborative activism, many of its environmental and scientific agencies are beginning to work together on the issues around global warming.
The DEC’s Estuary Program focuses on connecting municipalities with the information and resources, often across DEC divisions, they need to handle concerns and infrastructure issues. Kristin Marcell, Special Projects Coordinator, organizes the Hudson Valley Climate Change Network, which, in partnership with the Research Reserve, Cornell University, and the DEC’s Climate Change Office, hosts representatives from 30 agency organizations, programs, institutions, and municipalities to ensure that the enthusiasm for climate change action is coordinated, consistent and fostering communication among players. “We’re the only region in the state that’s trying to move forward on a regional level.” She pointed out that the issues we face illustrate our need to think about how we manage water. “The predictions are that under a decent scenario, we could see drought every two or three years by the end of the century. Under the worst-case scenario, we could see a short-term drought every year. That’s certainly significant enough for people to start thinking long term about their water supply.”