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Restoring the Herring River, Wellfleet, MA

By Tom Richardson

A July 27, 2022, article in the Boston Globe details the efforts of state and federal agencies, environmental groups, local shellfishermen, and concerned citizens to restore the Herring River in Wellfleet, MA. The upstream portion of this Cape Cod estuary was blocked by a dike in 1909 to reduce the mosquito population. The unforeseen result was an ecological disaster that led to a collapse of one of the Cape’s largest herring runs, as well as the contamination of oysters and other shellfish. Invasive species sch as European phragmites eventually took over the vast expanse of marshland, acidifying the peat and reducing the marsh’s ability to absorb carbon and buffer flooding. Nursery areas for numerous fish species were also blocked or destroyed.

Now, a $70 million project is underway to restore the natural tidal flow of the river and rebuild the marsh in what will be the largest estuarine restoration project in the Northeast.

Explore New England visited the Herring River in 2020 to film a segment with Bob Prescott, Director Emeritus of the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Prescott spoke about the history of the dike and the massive task that lay ahead to restore the river and surrounding marshland. A short film produced from that footage can be seen above.

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