Work Begins to Rebuild Degraded Sapowet Marsh

By ecoRI News staff

TIVERTON, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), along with Save The Bay and other partners, recently began work on an improvement project at the Sapowet Marsh Wildlife Management Area. The project, slated for completion in spring 2017, supports efforts to restore a degraded coastal habitat and strengthen the state’s resilience against climate change, according to state officials.

“We’re thrilled to begin this project which will greatly improve this important coastal area,” DEM director Janet Coit said. “Coastal fish, herons, egrets, waterfowl and so much more wildlife call this special place home. It’s important we preserve it. Sapowet is also a place where significant shoreline erosion is threatening existing infrastructure and limiting the natural areas available to the public to enjoy.”

The coastal portion of Sapowet Marsh has experienced more than 90 feet of shoreline erosion in the past 75 years, according to DEM. As part of the improvement project, the access from Seapowet Avenue will be redesigned; 4 acres of beach, dune and coastal shrub land will be revegetated; and 9 acres of coastal grassland will be restored. Other work will include improved parking and signage, and enhanced scenic vistas.

Wenley Ferguson, Save The Bay director of habitat restoration, said the project will restore the condition of the beach and salt marsh while creating a coastal buffer that will provide an area for these coastal habitats to migrate inland as sea level rises.

She also noted that the public’s access to the beach will be enhanced since parking will be moved off the beach and closer to the road.

The Sapowet project builds on significant progress made during the past decade to restore vital habitats and will support priority wildlife species, such as the least tern and saltmarsh sparrow, according to DEM.

Partners in the Sapowet effort include Save The Bay, Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Tiverton Conservation Commission. Funding for the $40,719 project includes $30,759 from CRMC’s Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund and $9,960 from the USFWS's Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration program.