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Vestas 11th Hour Racing engages with Save The Bay

by Vestas 11th Hour Racing 18 May 2018 14:31 BST 18 May 2018
Sailors from Vestas 11th Hour Racing head into the marsh with Wenley Ferguson, Director of Habitat Restoration at Save The Bay to learn about restoration and help dig runnels so water can flow off the marsh. © Harbor Beacon

Team members from Vestas 11th Hour Racing spent a day on iconic Ocean Drive in Newport, RI, wading in marsh mud. This activity was part of the team's larger legacy project with 11th Hour Racing, which involves awarding grants to local environmental organizations at each Volvo Ocean Race stopover.

In Newport, the team met with non-profit Save The Bay to learn how restoration work can protect salt marsh ecosystems. They also dug runnels that allow trapped water to drain off the marsh, ensuring the marsh stays healthy. These important coastal habitats are highly productive areas that protect upland shorelines, provide a nursery for juvenile fish and keep the bay healthy by filtering polluted runoff. The marsh on Ocean Drive has been restored and is maintained by Save The Bay. Coastal development, climate change, and sea level rise are having a profound impact on marshes; Rhode Island has lost more than 50% of it salt marsh ecosystems.

"Narragansett Bay is an amazing patch of water that is near and dear to me, and before today, I didn't realize how important the marshes are to the health of the bay," said Charlie Enright, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing. "I've been lucky to see the improvement in water quality since my junior sailing days, and it was fun to dig into the mud today learning how projects like this can help ensure that my children can grow up with a thriving ecosystem to explore."

Save The Bay has worked in Narragansett Bay since 1970, helping to restore and revitalize the nearly 1,600 square miles of these waters and associated ecosystems. Their work covers a range of topics including education, policy, advocacy, watershed protection, and habitat restoration.

"Salt marshes are so important, not only to our marine environment and ecosystems but also to our communities and economy. They serve as foraging and breeding habitat for fish, shellfish, and birds, keeping our fisheries healthy. They filter pollution from runoff before it enters the Bay, helping protect water quality. And they provide some protection from coastal flooding," said Jonathan Stone, Executive Director of Save The Bay. "Unfortunately, as the pace of sea level rise quickens, our marshes can't keep up, drowning in place. We risk losing the many benefits marshes provide if we cannot take measures that help them adapt to our changing climate conditions."

Vestas 11th Hour Racing chose to focus on coastal habitats and salt marshes, as they plan to offset their overall carbon footprint at the end of the Volvo Ocean Race with Seagrass Grow, a program of The Ocean Foundation, which uses 'blue carbon' to offset emissions. Blue carbon, the capacity of salt marshes and other tidal wetlands to sequester and store significant amounts of carbon, is critical to mitigating the impacts of climate change and building coastal resilience.

"I grew up coming to Gooseneck Cove, and I've always appreciated its beauty," said Nick Dana, boat captain of Vestas 11th Hour Racing. "But it was really interesting to learn that through coastal restoration projects like we can combat the degradation of the marsh and offset our carbon footprint at the same time."

Even if you live miles from the coast, what you do in your backyard can contribute to water pollution. Here are four simple tips to everyone can do to protect their local watershed:

  • Reduce or eliminate fertilizer usage, which is carried by rain from lawns to storm drains that flow into watersheds, harming plants and animals.
  • Use native plants, which need less water and fertilizer.
  • Always pick up pet waste, which is a significant source of bacteria in our local waters.
  • Offset your carbon footprint. Start by calculating the number of flights you take in a year, and visit www.oceanfdn.org/calculator

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