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Maryland Ecologist Offers Hope for Wetlands in Kirk Lecture

By Philip Walzer

Climate change is reducing the extent of wetlands across the country, but a combination of natural and manmade solutions could mitigate the loss, an ecologist said at Old Dominion University on Sept. 24.

Ariana Sutton-Grier, a visiting associate research professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, noted that amidst the ominous consequences of climate change, the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana is "building wetlands.

"To me, this is an incredibly hopeful message," she said. "Wetlands can be extremely resilient."

Sutton-Grier delivered Old Dominion's third annual Paul W. Kirk Jr. Memorial Lecture for Wetlands Ecology in the University Theatre.

Sutton-Grier suggested that communities use a combination of natural buffers, such as dunes and salt marshes, and manmade strategies, including dikes and placing houses on stilts, to protect wetlands and reduce flooding.

She also said communities should limit development in areas near wetlands. "We will lose a lot less coastal wetland habitat if we make smart land-use and policy decisions."

Sutton-Grier, who participated in the Fourth National Climate Assessment last year, praised Norfolk's approach to climate change, including its wetlands restoration project on Colley Bay and plans to raise houses.

"It is very much a hybrid approach to resilience," she said. "This combination is very forward-thinking."

The Kirk lecture series was created by the family of Paul Kirk Jr., a biology professor at Old Dominion who wrote the first comprehensive study of the Dismal Swamp. He died in 2013.

Kirk's son, Dr. Allan Kirk '83, chair of the Department of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center, said after Sutton-Grier's presentation: "I can't think of a more fitting lecture to honor my father."

To learn more about Paul Kirk and Dr. Allan Kirk, go to the summer issue of Monarch magazine at www.odu.edu/monarchmag

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