Salt marsh construction as a nature-based solution in an estuarine social-ecological system

M.J. Baptist*, Petra Dankers, J. Cleveringa, Luca Sittoni, P.W.J.M. Willemsen, M.E.B. van Puijenbroek, B.M.L. de Vries, J.R.F.W. Leuven, L. Coumou, H. Kramer, K. Elschot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Constructed salt marshes as a Nature-Based Solution for coastal defense offer additional benefits over conven- tional engineering, but project realization is often hampered by practical and governmental obstacles. We assessed the execution of a local-scale salt marsh construction project as a Nature-Based Solution (NBS) with respect to the regional-scale Social-Ecological System (SES) in an explicitly linked NBS-SES framework. A local municipality came up with various plans to develop its waterfront but these proved unrealizable without wider stakeholder participation. Crucial for success was that the local initiative was turned into an NBS integrating livability, bio- diversity and flood safety, and that it was linked to the governance systems and actors in a regional SES. The chosen NBS consists of a city beach and two salt marshes, a salt marsh park that is open to the public and a pioneer salt marsh that is only accessible for research. The pioneer salt marsh was constructed by raising the seabed to around mean high tide with sand obtained from a capital dredging project. It was used as a large-scale natural experiment in salt marsh construction. To test the effect of enrichment with silt and clay on initial salt marsh development, six hectare-scale compartments were created in which mud was mixed with sand in the top 1.0 m of the bed to three mud contents of on average 8%, 25% and 48%. Heavy machinery was needed to mix mud through the upper meter of the sandy bed. Mixing mud was softening the sediment causing the machines to sink into the 48% mud enriched bed. To test whether seeding with a pioneer plant species accelerates salt marsh development, fragments of Salicornia procumbens plants were seeded in half of three compartments. Field observations between November 2018 to September 2020 showed that seeding of Salicornia plant fragments re- sulted in significant differences in vegetation cover and species richness in the first growing season. Mud content showed significant positive effects on vegetation cover and species richness in the two monitored growing sea- sons, where the compartments with on average 7–9% mud had the lowest vegetation cover and species numbers. When constructing a salt marsh by raising sand and mixing mud, a mud content of 25% is practically feasible and results in high vegetation cover and species richness.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100005
JournalNature-Based Solutions
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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