Every fall when Maurice Jean was a teenager, he and his parents and siblings would drive 20 minutes to an untouched salt marsh on New Brunswick’s Acadian Peninsula to pick cranberries. Some years the marsh was full of the small red berries and some years there were none; every year the family went just the same.
Jean’s parents, Bernard and Corinne, bought the land near Village-des-Poirier more than five decades ago for its beauty. In the summer, green and yellow marsh grasses swayed in the breeze against the blue ocean, with the forest standing thick behind it. From the ground burst as many wildflowers as seabirds filled the sky — and Bernard wanted the community to enjoy it all. He imagined the local Scout troop camping there, or a theatre group performing in the summer. Whatever the land’s ultimate purpose, Bernard knew one thing: he would protect it and donate it for conservation.
“My father owned other land,” says Maurice, “But this land was reserved for preservation and not to be broken apart.”
After Maurice’s parents passed away, he and his siblings inherited the more than 75 acres (30 hectares) of salt marsh and coastal upland. Remembering their parents’ love for the place, and their father’s ultimate wish to ensure the land would be protected for generations to enjoy, they decided to donate the marsh to Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC). Thanks to funding from the Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund, DUC purchased an additional 175 acres (71 hectares) of salt marsh and upland, making the impact of the Jean family’s gift even more valuable for coastal conservation.
Worth their salt: Salt marshes protect coastal communities
Since the 1700s, more than 65 per cent of New Brunswick’s salt marshes have been lost to coastal development. It is an alarming statistic: not only are these increasingly rare ecosystems important habitat for wildlife, including migratory birds and marine crustaceans like young lobster — they’re critical pieces of natural infrastructure in the fight against the effects of climate change.
Rising global temperatures are melting sea ice and glaciers, pouring an excess of water into Earth’s oceans, an issue exacerbated by the fact that southern Atlantic Canada is slowly sinking after the last ice age. In Atlantic Canada, sea levels are expected to rise by one metre by 2100, leaving many coastal communities vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. This is where salt marshes prove their worth.
Sand and soil — brought in from offshore and deposited by the tides — settle between the roots and stalks of salt marsh grasses on the coast to form a fortification against the waves. These ecosystems, including the newly conserved habitats near Village-des-Poirier, can act as a barrier between coastal communities and an increasingly unpredictable ocean. But it’s becoming more evident that restoring and conserving salt marshes — as DUC has been doing for more than 15 years — isn’t enough. We need to conserve the lands around them too.
This is why the Jean family’s donation and additional purchased lands are so important. The land behind the marsh will never be developed, and so this beautiful, diverse and dynamic ecosystem has room to move and change and grow, fortifying the coast against a rising sea. The abundance of wildflowers and the wildlife that moved Bernard to buy the property all those years ago will remain for the community to enjoy for generations — like he and his family always wanted.
Help ease the squeeze
DUC and our conservation partners are continuing to conserve and restore salt marshes with undeveloped supporting lands across Atlantic Canada to save them from coastal squeeze. We encourage individuals interested in selling or donating undeveloped coastal habitat to contact us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1-877-477-8077 (toll free).
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