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February 4, 2014

Our view: Phragmites warnings should be heeded

If there is a singular physical characteristic that makes our local coast unique, it is the Great Marsh.

There is nothing else like it in the region; indeed its closest rival can be found far to the south of here. There is no other place along the 570-mile New England coastline where one can find a salt marsh as large and diverse as what we have along our local coast.

Though it appears at casual glance as a barren flatland of marshy ground crisscrossed by serpentine rivers and creeks, it is our most important incubator of wildlife. It is the spawning ground for a wide variety of marine animals, and from that springs a complex food chain. Its loss would be catastrophic to our local ecology. Like Chesapeake Bay in the mid-Atlantic states, the Great Marsh is a hub of vitality for the natural world.

The marsh’s vastness masks the warning signs of trouble. One of those signs has been well documented of late by a small team of locals -- Gregg Moore, Geoff Walker, Peter Phippen and Richard Hydren. Their film, “Danger in the Reeds,” explores the creeping growth of invasive phragmites in the Great Marsh, and the significant damage this invasive plant is doing.

The short documentary is playing to rave reviews among locals who have viewed it. The film can be seen online, via producer Hydren’s website. It’s well worth viewing by those who appreciate the marsh, and perhaps more importantly, it will spur people to action.

Phragmites are tall and willowy reeds, growing to nearly 10 feet in height. They are not natural to this region; they are believed to have been inadvertently brought here aboard European ships. A thin but strong central reed towers over the plant, topped by a fluffy clump of seed pods. They grow in thick clumps, overshadowing the marsh’s grasses. They change the dynamics of the marsh by destroying the natural grasslands, and thus destroying the habitat that spawns marine life.

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