Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day, Climate Change

Blog Action Day, Climate Change

Essex River, Ancestors and the Changing Climate on Earth

My ancestors have lived along the Essex River and Ipswich coast since the first settlers arrived in the 1630s. The last person in my family to live in Essex, which was first known as Ipswich’s Chebacco Parish, was my grandfather, who was born there in 1905. He was buried along with my grandmother and the rest of his family in the family plot on Spring Street. The Spring Street Cemetery is just a stones throw from the Essex River and the shipyard. My mother was born in Ipswich in 1835, but she grew up next door in Hamilton.

As the planet warms we will all be impacted, but not all will be impacted equally. The delicate balance of a tidal estuary, existing just at sea level, like the Essex River, is an endangered place. Many of the first English colonists arrived in Ipswich with John Winthrop’s Great Migration. From Ipswich they spread to Salem, Boston and then to other parts of Massachusetts and New England. Many of the Essex County, Massachusetts farmers who removed to Nutfield in the late 1700s were descendants of these first Ipswich settlers. Many hundreds of thousands of Americans are descended from these first farmers who depended on the salt marsh hay, also working as fishermen, ship builders and clammers.

Around the Essex Bay are barrier beaches, islands, the Cogswell Grant historic site, important nesting sites for endangered piping plovers, all existing only a few feet above sea level. The natural resources of the Essex Bay are tied to the local economy, history and recreation. It is part of the “Great Marsh” that extends from Salisbury to Gloucester, the largest continuous acreage of salt marsh in New England, over 25,500 acres. Look at the other first settlements in this part of New England and most are located in similarly marshy areas: Rumney Marsh (Chelsea, Massachusetts), Plymouth, Massachusetts, New Hampshire’s Great Bay and Kittery Maine.

Living just seconds away from the ocean, constant tidal action, hurricanes, coastal erosion, and manmade pollution, have changed the estuaries and the Essex River’s path over the years. My ancestors would probably not recognize the area where shipbuilding is now taking place near the Essex causeway. Climate change will cause these differences to become more pronounced, and it will happen quicker in the next decades.

What will be the impact on clamming, fishing, and shipbuilding? I’m sure that it will be huge, even though less and less people in Essex depend on these industries for a livelihood. More and more, the face of Essex has become one of suburbia and residences for commuters. Tourism businesses (such as the tours of the estuary), seafood restaurants, and antique shops will be affected if the causeway goes underwater, or is destroyed by a rogue wave from a hurricane. Historical places, such as the shipyard, churches or the burial grounds will disappear if the sea levels rise. We can build a new shipyard, and move a restaurant inland, but the historic places of our ancestors will be gone forever.


More Information:

“Take a Stand in the Sand: International Day of Climate Action” October 24, 2009 1PM at Cranes Beach, Ipswich. The Trustees of Reservations will be sending a message to the Massachusetts representatives and the global community that we need bold climate change legislation to protect our planet and the local places we care for. This is an example of local action in Ipswich. How local residents have taken steps to reduce their own carbon footprint, including voting on a wind turbine for the town’s electricity needs.

And The Essex Bay wetlands coastal management plan, an area of critical concern to the Massachusetts Government
Copyright 2009, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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