Sustainable Development Success Stories

Salt Marsh Restoration

Location  New York (Staten Island and Brooklyn), USA
Responsible Organisation

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation; National Resources Group (NRG)


Located in Staten Island, the Old Place salt marsh was one of four marshes affected by the 1990 Exxon oil spill. The ruined marshes are part of the Hudson River Estuary, designated by the US Congress as an "estuary of national significance", and arguably the most effectively functioning estuary on the East Coast. Crucial to the survival of the marshes is salt-marsh cordgrass, vast areas of which were destroyed by the spill. The Natural Resources Group of the Department of Parks created the Salt Marsh Restoration Team to restore the affected areas. The team includes landscape architects and experts on wildlife biology, environmental science, soil science, and restoration ecology.

The team’s primary goal was to restore plant and animal communities destroyed by the spill, while a secondary goal was to assess whether the reintroduction of cordgrass could reduce total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) levels in the soil. Viewed historically as wasteland, the tidal marsh is one of the most biologically productive landscapes on earth. Economic models applied to coastal development have begun to reflect the far-reaching benefits of tidal marshes, and regulatory entities have followed suit with a complex array of federal and state regulations designed to save what remains of our coastal landscape. However, the unprecedented levels of governmental vigilance and public and private funding have not always assured success.

Issues Addressed Integrated coastal management.
Results Achieved

Plantation of cordgrass seedlings

In addition to total petroleum hydrocarbons, the National Resources Group monitors a range of variables to determine the restoration’s success and will continue to do so for a period of five years following installation. This carefully designed and executed monitoring program distinguishes restorations performed by New York City Park’s NRG and gives them lasting value.

Guidelines for monitoring low-salt-marsh-restoration projects designed by NRG scientists are currently under consideration by New York State for use as a standard in state-funded restorations. If adopted, these guidelines would represent an important step in establishing a national standard for determining the success of salt-marsh restorations. Such a standard has long been necessary as a way to judge the myriad artificial wetlands constructed and restorations undertaken due to legal obligations to "mitigate" destruction of existing wetlands.

Lessons Learned

Both municipal cooperation and meticulous design work were necessary to ensure that the marsh would function again.

Now approaching its fifth growing season, the salt-marsh restoration at Old Place Marsh endures as proof that restoration can succeed even under conditions previously considered too far-gone for treatment.

It is important to have an integrated approach involving government, community and school groups.


Deborah Marten,
Project Manager with the Natural Resources Group of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation,
The Arsenal, Central Park
New York, New York 10021
Tel. (212) 360-8111;

The text has been adapted from "New Life for the Shoreline", Landscape Architecture, Oct. 1998. 82-89.