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Depression-era drainage ditches emerge as sleeping threat to Cape Cod salt marshes
Date:1/25/2013

twentieth century, Cape Cod was a very different place from the summer vacation destination it is today. As land use shifted from agriculture toward tourism, the local chamber of commerce funded an effort to draw off standing water through drainage ditches to suppress the mosquito population. The program was probably not very effective at controlling mosquito-borne disease, Coverdale says, but it did put a lot of people to work, and they were industrious. Over 2400 kilometers of old ditches stripe the marshes of the long, low-lying peninsula. The Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project continues ditch-dredging under the Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment.

The ditching program had a relatively minor impact on the marshes compared to other forms of development, however. Following the Second World War, Cape Cod developed rapidly, nearly tripling in permanent human population between 1940 and 1976, when a new awareness of the ecological and economic benefits of the marsh brought strict limitations on further development. Ditches claimed only 2 percent of the marsh, compared with the 70 percent affected by roads, houses, restaurants, marinas, and other hallmarks of a modern coastal community. Alone, the ditches did not fundamentally alter the marsh ecosystem. The species that colonized the ditches were already present in the marsh; the WPA's remodeling project just moved them around. The additional pressure of recreational fishing changed that equilibrium.

How do Cape Cod residents and local fishing enthusiasts feel about this news? Coverdale says the area has a strong conservation ethic. People remember what the Cape looked like when their parents lived there, and are unhappy with the changes. As a fishing enthusiast himself, Coverdale does not see ecologists and fishermen as opposing forces.

"People enjoy catching fish today, but they come back year after year. They want to see the fish there tomorrow," Coverdale said. He h
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Contact: Liza Lester
llester@esa.org
202-833-8773 x211
Ecological Society of America
Source:Eurekalert  

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Depression-era drainage ditches emerge as sleeping threat to Cape Cod salt marshes
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