By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Future of marshes uncertain
The smokestacks and reactors at Chemtal provide a contrasting background to the scenic marshes near Riceboro. - photo by Photo by John Deike
The preservation of the marshlands along the Georgia coast faces an uncertain future as development and population growth are expected to rise in the area.
Within the past 50 years, Georgia’s population has risen from about three million to five million people, and during the next 20 years the population is expected to geometrically increase by about 12 to 16 million people, Environmental Protection Department coordinator Michelle Vincent said.
“There will be a huge increase in development and in impervious surfaces (like streets, sidewalks and rooftops), and the trends of current development are more sprawling and less dense, which may soon change with this potential population surge,” she said.
In terms of development, the coastal marshlands protection rules have changed, as a 50-foot buffer must be in place between a bridge, a dock or a marina that is built along the coast to help protect the ecosystem from storm water runoff, Coastal Resources Division Director Susan Shipman said.
Conservationist Chandra Brown contrasts Shipman’s comment though. She said the new rules are a tremendous rollback on the current protection of the marsh.
“Under these current rules, the courts can no longer interpret them to apply to the environmental marshlands, and these regulations are being widely misunderstood by the public, she said. “Environmentalists fiercely opposed these rules and the development community helped push them to give them more freedom to build.”
The impervious services of these marshland communities alters the hydrology of the land and creates a flash runoff, which quickly flows into the sewers and drainage systems, oceanographic scientist Dr. Peter Verity said.
“When these storm water ‘nutrients’ hit the water system in the presence of light, it leads to an excessive amount of micro algae,” he said. “The bacteria in the water breaks down the algae, and it uses oxygen for the breaking down process. If you feed this bacteria enough food, it will lower the oxygen level in the water and species like crabs and certain fish become stressed and disease amongst them will increase and their numbers will fall.”
The shellfish and fishing industries in Liberty County could be affected since those species would be victims of death and disease, and they would also be targeted by the increased number of jellyfish who can thrive in low-oxygen water to feed on them, Brown said.
“The old model for coastal Georgia is not applicable for high density conditions, and if we don’t do something about it in the next five, 10 or 20 years coastal Georgia will resemble the heavily altered ecosystems of Boston Harbor and Chesapeake Bay,” Verity said. 
There are options to alleviate the storm-water runoff problems such as implementing low impact development and bringing filtration systems online to not drastically alter the hydrology of an area, and to keep the water clean, Brown said.
Yellow Bluff principal Ren Keel said his development uses a filtration system to lessen the sediment and pollution in the storm water and he said his company makes the surrounding marshes a priority.
Liberty Consolidated Planning Commissioner Don Hartley said there are people all along the coast making inquiries about developing near the marshes, and the question is whether these future developers will be environmentally conscious about preserving the Liberty County marshes.
Sign up for our e-newsletters