great marsh symposium 2018

Talks about Native Americans, fried clams followed by clam chowder

By Kristen Grubbs

ESSEX — Over 170 people with a connection to the Great Marsh convened today at Woodman’s to celebrate the largest continuous stretch of salt marsh in New England.

Members of the Great Marsh Coalition have been putting on this event for the past seven years, and this year selected the theme “Celebrating the Great Marsh: Fostering the Future”.

This year, the Coalition focused on society’s connection to the Great Marsh.

The symposium featured talks and discussions about traditional uses of the marsh, nature study and civic engagement, the shellfish industry, tourism, marsh-inspired art, and how the next generation is thinking about climate change’s impact on the marsh.

Presenters represented diverse interests such as state and local governments, environmental non-profits, commercial industry, the arts community, and others.

The event culminated with table conversations about climate change facilitated by students from Newburyport, Ipswich, and Gloucester high schools.

These future leaders have been hosting climate cafés around their communities, practicing their dialogue and discourse skills around environmental topics of local importance.

The students shared their biggest concerns for protecting and preserving the Great Marsh, and led small-group discussions on what efforts happening today and in the near future will result in them inheriting a more resilient marsh.

The Great Marsh stretches from Gloucester to southern New Hampshire, and includes over 20,000 acres of salt marsh, barrier beach, tidal river, estuary, mudflat, and upland islands.

In recognition of the Great Marsh’s extraordinary natural resources, a portion of this area was designated by the state in 1979 as the Parker River/Essex Bay Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and as such receives additional protections.

The Great Marsh is an internationally recognized Important Bird Area (IBA) as it contributes to the preservation of many breeding and migratory birds.

This unique complex of natural systems adds ecological, economic, recreational, and cultural value to our daily lives both on the coast and inland where land is connected by river and stream networks.

The Great Marsh Coalition is a group of organizations and agencies that began meeting in spring 2000 to discuss ways of building a regional consciousness and identity for the Great Marsh. Members include Ipswich River Watershed Association, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, The Trustees, Essex County Greenbelt Association, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Parker River Clean Water Association, Eight Towns and the Great Marsh/MassBays National Estuary Program, Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, Essex National Heritage, and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

Kristen Grubbs is an environmental planner with IRWA.