Galilee Salt Marsh

Land Use

Why did the marsh on the south side of the Galilee Escape Road become unhealthy?

The Galilee Bird Sanctuary is a 128 acre coastal wetland complex owned and managed by the RIDEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife. The sanctuary is located east of the port of Galilee and is bounded by the Galilee Escape Road to the north and Sand Hill Cove Road to the south. The Division of Fish and Wildlife acquired this area by executive order in 1995 for use as a bird sanctuary and has been managed by RIDEM since that time.

During the 1950's, unconfined dredge spoil taken from the Port of Galilee was deposited over portions of the western side of the salt marsh which comprised the Galilee Bird Sanctuary. This disposal filled in a tidal channel which existed in this location and significantly altered natural flow of water into the marsh.

During the 1954 hurricane, extreme flooding of Sand Hill Cove Road trapped residents of Great Island. In 1956 the State Division of Public Works constructed the Galilee Escape Road to prevent this from recurring. This construction fragmented a previously continuous salt marsh, also eliminating about seven acres of valuable marsh habitat. Restriction of tidal flushing on the southern side of the Galilee Escape Road transformed the once productive salt marsh into a dense thicket, which caused reduction of natural coastal wetland habitats for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, fish and shellfish.

In September 1991, RIDEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife became the lead agency in a multi-agency effort designed to restore the Galilee Bird Sanctuary Salt marsh. This restoration project became the first restoration by the Army Corps of Engineers in New England under an environmental program authorized by the United States Congress in 1986 under section 1135 of the Water Resources Development Act. This act allows the Corps to review federal projects constructed by the Corps of engineers to determine the need for a modification in the structures and operations of such projects for the purpose of improving the quality of the environment.

The completion of this restoration intends to return approximately 84 total acres of salt marsh habitat and 14 acres of open water in new tidal channels.  Numerous benefits are expected from the project, including improvement of habitats for resident and migratory birds, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds, improvement of finfish and shellfish habitats, restoration of ecosystem function and improved aquatic productivity. (see SM projected restoration map) This restoration project is also intended to provide socio-economic benefits associated with water quality maintenance, aesthetics, education, public recreation, and scientific research.
(Courtesy of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fish and Wildlife)