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Threatened Habitats | Marsh Reading List | Phragmites

Wetlands Habitat Assessment Toolbox (WHAT)

Salem Sound Coastwatch developed the Wetland Health Assessment Toolbox with scientists from the Massachusetts Bays Program and Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office.

With hundreds of volunteers citizen scientists, we have monitored North Shore salt marsh systems since 1999 to evaluate salt marsh restorations. SSCW trains volunteers to assess the health of regional wetlands using the toolbox.
Contact us
if you want to help us monitor salt marshes during the summer.


Wetland health is assessed by using seven parameters:

1) Fish
Fish are sampled using minnow traps three times during the summer. Learn how to identify typical salt marsh fish species that use wetland sites along the North Shore.
2) Aquatic Macroinvertebrates
Invertebrate field sampling includes auger samples of the creek bed, dip net samples of the vegetated creek bank edge, and quad sampling on the top of the bank. Samples are preserved, sorted off site and then identified under the microscope to family level.The presence/absence of particular family groups as well as population size can be used to assess the health of a wetland.
3) Vegetation
Plants are identified generally in August to assess plant diversity and overall health of a wetland as well as the presence or absence of invasive species. Vegetation is sampled using established transects and quads.
4) Salinity
Shallow ground water wells are installed along three transects. Refractometers and/or water quality meters are used to take salinity measurements. This parameter is important in explaining the dynamics of wetland water chemistry.
5) Tidal Influence
Tidal restrictions are measured using staff gauges to determine how the patterns of tidal range and water depth affect the viability of a wetland.
6) Land Use
Maps and aerial photography along with field techniques to describe land use and the environmental characteristics of the landscape are used to gain an overall measure of human disturbance at a particular wetland site.
7) Avifauna
Birds are used as bioindicators for the salt marsh habitats. The presence/absence of certain bird species may provide clues about the fish and invertebrate populations in the salt marsh. Field identification is necessary.

Recommended Reading for WHAT Program Methods

Carlisle, B.K., A.M. Donovan, A.L. Hicks, V.S. Kooken, J.P. Smith, and A.R. Wilbur. 2002. A Volunteer's Handbook for Monitoring New England Salt Marshes. Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, Boston, MA.

EPA Approved Quality Assurance Project Plan : SSCW WHAT QAPP

MA CZM Wetland Assessment Program - Land Use Index: Wetland Evaluation Area. B.K. Carlisle, Coastal Wetlands Coordinator, 11/02 Description and Methodology