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Georgia's Fight to Save the Salt Marshes Continues to Pay Off 50 Years Later

When it comes to protecting the state from sea-level rise, Georgia is a step ahead of the rest thanks to a piece of legislation celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
September 21, 2020, 11am PDT | Lee Flannery | @leecflannery
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Clam Creek, located on coastal Georgia's Jekyll Island, is a popular place for birders, photographers and cyclists. Its salt marsh is a great place to watch wildlife.
Joanne Dale

One hundred miles of coastal salt marsh along the Georgia coast is an integral part of the fabric of the state's identity, wildlife habitat, and natural landscape. Fifty years since a Georgia law was passed to protect the marsh, residents know that the 400,000 acres of tall grasses and shallow, muddy waters are appreciated and secure. 

But this wasn't always the case, says Molly Samuel. "The marsh’s value and its beauty might be taken for granted now, but in the late-1960s, there was a proposal to mine Georgia’s salt marsh. To dig it up, then fill it in."

The legislation would later prove itself to be vital to the states future as sea-level rise threatening costal communities in the United States and beyond. Georgia's marshes make up about a third of salt marshland on the Eastern Seaboard, an indispensable buffer between land and sea. 

Samuel recounts the history of Coastal Marshlands Protection Act. The desire to develop Georgia's 12 islands "largely owned by wealthy families that used them as vacation destinations" and a phosphate mining proposal turned out the masses during a state hearing on the matter. 

Fifty years later, Georgia has a new beast to tackle. "On the Georgia coast, sea levels are getting higher by a little over a tenth of an inch a year, adding up to close to a foot a century," writes Samuel.

Experts say that as the sea-level rises, the marshlands will inch inland. "Georgia is working on ways to adapt to and prepare for increasingly high tides, asking local governments to plan for sea level rise, and protecting open space so that the marshes can keep moving inland," Samuel says.

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Published on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 in WABE
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