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Researchers look at protecting Boston from rising sea levels through an 'Emerald Tutu' of floating wetlands mats

Emerald Tutu: Floating vegetation mats with walkways

What part of the Emerald Tutu could look like. Source.

Researchers at Northeastern University are testing a way to protect Boston from storm surges caused by climate change by deploying thousands of biodegradable mats that would grow marsh grasses on top and seaweed below to absorb some of the energy and water that would otherwise slam into Boston's low-lying areas.

When not combating surges, the Emerald Tutu mats would be installed with floating walkways for people to enjoy nature - complementing the land-based Emerald Necklace.

Researchers have already tested out a single seven-foot-diameter mat off an East Boston pier in the spring of 2021, and are hoping to put down a second one somewhere in Boston Harbor this summer with the help of the Stone Living Lab, which itself is looking at natural ways to combat the sea-based effects of climate change in Boston. A large-scale test involving 100 mats is in the works.

Made up of biodegradable material such as coconut fiber, wood chip byproduct, burlap canvas and marine-grade rope, the mats won’t pollute the environment if they break loose and are lost at sea, [Northeastern civil and environmental engineering Professor Julia] Hopkins says.

She says she was delighted when researchers pulled the East Boston mat out of the water in late summer of 2021 to see what was growing on it and found it was loaded with marine plants.

"It had so much vegetation. We didn't expect as much grass or seaweed to grow. We didn't realize it would colonize that easily and that much."

If installed - the idea would require approval of state and local officials - it would not be the first Boston-area flood-control system that relies largely on vegetation. In the 1970s, the Army Corps of Engineers bought 8,100 acres of marshy and forested land along the Charles River between Medfield and the Boston line to act as sort of giant sponge to absorb flood waters, rather than building a series of levees.

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Comments

just clog up the navigable waterways and keep building on the coast. UMASS Boston has been ahead of the curve on this issue for years and people pretend not to hear the message. Stop building on the coast, and restore or construct resilient shoreline.

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Granted, it's artificial, so maybe that doesn't count -- but isn't the idea here to replicate the function of wetlands?

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This is a resilient shoreline.

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The fact that another whale was spotted in the harbor off Deer Island a few weeks back tells you the harbor is incredibly clean. This can help it be cleaner.

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Whales are known for being extremely intelligent, like humans, and therefore may be suspected of being prone to terrible lapses of judgment, like humans. I’m human (I think), and when I was younger I spent a fair amount of time in places fouler than the harbor ever was. Anyone who has survived the men’s room at the Rat need have no fear of Boston Harbor.

But regardless of what the whales think, this does look pretty promising. I’m sure I’m not alone in devoutly hoping that they come up with another name.

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build real marshes that won't interfere with the natural circulation of the tide water.

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You can't "build" a "real marsh"

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Thanks to years of lack of enforcement of Chapter 91, at least in spirit, we have what we have.

here are a couple of other opinions:

https://apcc.org/our-work/science/salt-marsh-restoration/

https://www.nycgovparks.org/pagefiles/132/NYCParks-SaltMarshRestorationD...

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The amount of fill to accomplish this would be epic and bring many problems.

It also takes time for such marshes to reach maturity. MA is doing salt marsh restoration and extension in a lot of places, but where it makes the most sense. Installing these mats is a much quicker process and is actually much less disruptive to shipping, navigation, etc. than locating enough clean fill to add to that much abrupt coastline.

Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management has a lot of info: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/czm-coastal-habitat-program-protection...

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr is a complete believer in salt marsh restoration, and he has plans for all those invasive green crabs.

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...was the whole reason the harbor was so filthy, wasn't it?

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I'm curious about the research that suggests that whales are intolerant of polluted water or that the incidental presence of whales is an indicator of high water quality. Could you share it with me?

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Would you rather swim in a nice clean saltwater pool or a saltwater pool where 2.6 million have just done their business?

I'll take the clean. So would your friendly neighborhood Humpback.

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Interestingly enough I was reading about Moon Island & Boston's sewer system prior to Deer Island being built. I found it funny that the idea was to let the tide take the sludge out to sea, but in return over time from the facility being at over capacity, it just pushed it back toward Boston, Quincy, & Hingham Harbor.

To sum it up, Boston swam in sh*t.

I can't imagine what Boston beaches (like Carson, etc) were like in the 1960s when Moon Island was phased out. Gross is all I can think of.

So yeah. the water is much cleaner now. Moon Island prior to it being a waste water facility.. the shore line around it was a very popular clamming bed with the local indigenous people. And now that the water is clean(er), its safe to clam there again (and its popular to do so).

I'd like to think the Whales are back for the same reason.

(source(s): Wikipedia and various harbor island websites)

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That sounds perfectly logical, but that doesn't make it correct. There are, of course, plenty of critters who seem to prefer the foulest water around. Your assertion that the presence of a whale indicates high water quality, is it supported by any data at all?

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There really wasn't a lot of food when the pollution was extreme, because of the pollution (high sewage and nutrient levels lead to deoxygenation) and because of other human activities.

Whale visitors have a lot to do with recovery of the entire food web.

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Ahhh, my eyes! I'm blind!

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I wonder what this does for other life in the harbor to have all this shade introduced suddenly.

I hope it wouldn't cause any issues unforeseen.

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About the potential for wildlife to become entangled in the various bits of rope tethering these mats in place, not to mention the mats themselves.

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Well Boston is mostly marshland so its just like giving back what was there. I think we'd see an explosion of organisms & wildlife that used to be in our waters before we landfilled it all. The linked article explains how the test panel they did had all sorts of new wildlife growing on it.

tbh I don't see this much different.. other than manmade.. building a wetland-ish by growing lily pads or that kudzu-like vine that grows in water to accomplish the same thing. At least with these, you can control how much grows... (which is often the case using plants to do this)

I just wonder the effectiveness of... big sea swells are something, and I am not sure a coast surrounded by these would help deter it to make doing something like this worth it.

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These will be tied in with materials as stout or stouter than moorings typical of any boatyard or marina.

As far as I know, moorings are not much of an issue with entanglement - that's an issue with nets and lines used to haul nets, and fishing line.

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When shallower waters heat up during heat events, they lose oxygen. This dappled shade will reduce that issue.

And that may very well be part of why the test plots colonized so easily.

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[shrug!]

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This will make for an awesome place to paddle, particularly since it will be difficult for motorboats to mayhem and will feature wave attenuation.

Looking forward to it.

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I'm not a hydraulic engineer; but I know water takes the path of least resistance. If this plan is implemented, the water will just flood other parts of the city. Unless the "entire" city of Boston is contained within the "ring", it won't work -- and is impracticable. Locks would have to be installed to accommodate freight traffic in and out of the city. "If" (and its a big if) such a plan were implented with locks, Boston might be safe -- but it's neighbors on the coast would be worse off and become inundated with even more flooding than if Boston did not adopt this scheme.

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