April 5, 2018. By Mary Kate Alger, Coastal Research Volunteers high school intern and senior at Next Charter School.
This story is part of our "Spotlight on our Collaborators" series, in which we introduce volunteers to some of the partners, researchers, and data users that we collaborate with to make our volunteer research happen.
Dr. David Burdick plays a big role in CRV's efforts to restore sand dune habitat in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but this work is just a part of Dr. Burdick's extensive research on tidal wetlands. In this interview we'll learn more about his involvement in dune restoration and get a more in-depth look into some of his other work.
As a little background, dune restoration entails planting beachgrass and other dune plants in dunes along the coast that may need them. Degraded dunes have become a problem in recent years. Dune grasses create a habitat for many species, including the piping plover, snowy owls, and monarch butterflies, and protect beaches and the areas behind them from storms. The roots and leaves of the plants anchor down sand and, over time, build up a sand dune. In a storm, the dunes that have built up will be washed away instead of the homes and roads behind them. In this interview we'll learn more about Dr. Burdick's work with dune restoration and his other research.
Why were you initially interested in tidal habitats?
I have always been interested in how animals survive in extreme environments. As a child my family moved to Wellfleet on Cape Cod, and we would regularly go sailing and shellfishing. This is where I really got hooked on the beauty and wonder of how animals evolved to live in intertidal areas like mudflats and salt marshes.
What is your favorite marine wetland species and why?
I have so many. I love turtles, and especially sea turtles, so it should be no surprise that one of my favorites is the diamondback terrapin. These small turtles live their whole lives in estuaries, hunting for prey in salt marshes and seagrass meadows or above the flats, and only come out of the water to lay eggs in the sandy uplands. Unfortunately I don’t get to see them often; their distribution extends only as far north as Provincetown, Cape Cod. However, when sailing in Wellfleet Harbor I find great joy in seeing their little heads poke out of the water to eye me.
One of my marine favorites is the large sea hare, a shell-less gastropod classified as an opisthobranch that I have swam with in the Mediterranean Sea. One type of local opisthobranch is the nudibranchs. These creatures, found in the deeper tidal pools of rocky coasts, are always great to find because they remind me of their larger cousins. Even more beautiful than the sea hares, nudibranchs are like tiny jewels and deserve close observation to appreciate their features.
What is your favorite part of your job?
As no surprise, I really enjoy being in the field. Participating in underwater projects, like eelgrass assessment with a snorkel and wetsuit is always exciting. I also find being out on any type of shoreline, marsh or dune both relaxing and inspiring.
What is the most interesting research question you’ve worked on?
Perhaps most interesting is working to understand how human activities impact anchor species in special habitats like salt marshes and seagrass beds. For example, we build docks out into the water for our recreational boats, but shading from these docks can lead to loss of eelgrass habitat. I found it ironic that docks cause seagrass plants to grow taller just before they die-out under docks. More importantly, my team learned that dock designs allowing more light to reach the bottom also supported eelgrass beds. Most emotionally rewarding is restoring or creating these habitats so they will provide benefits to local communities into the future.
How long have you worked with CRV?
I have worked with the CRV from their inception. They have helped with planting marshes at restoration sites, worked to restore dunes and helped assess plants in our sentinel salt marsh sites.
What advice do you have for community members who want to learn more about marine wetlands?
There are a variety of opportunities for non-professionals to learn about wetlands. I think most people who want to learn more attend presentations or workshops. There are also active learning experiences too and I think the best opportunities there lie with the CRV who participate in activities ranging from counting eels as they return to their parents' rivers to raising oysters to helping children plant dunes.