Remove debris from brackish/salt marshes

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
  • Certainty
  • Harms

Study locations

Key messages

  • Two studies evaluated the effects, on vegetation, of removing debris from brackish/salt marshes. Both studies were in the USA.




  • Overall abundance (1 study): One replicated, paired, site comparison study in a salt marsh in the USA found that overall vegetation cover in patches where debris had been removed remained lower than in undisturbed marsh for one growing season, but had recovered to match undisturbed marsh after two growing seasons.
  • Individual species abundance (2 studies): Two studies quantified the effect of this action on the abundance of individual plant species. For example, the two replicated, site comparison studies in salt marshes in the USA found that the abundance of dominant herb species in impacted vegetation patches was typically lower than in undisturbed marsh one growing season after removing debris, but was sometimes similar to undisturbed marsh. The results depended on the species, metric and type of debris removed. One of the studies also monitored until the second growing season after removing debris; at this point, the cover of both dominant herb species had recovered to match undisturbed marsh.


  • Height (1 study): One replicated, before-and-after, site comparison study in a salt marsh in the USA found that the maximum height of smooth cordgrass recovered, to match undisturbed marsh, within 45 weeks of removing debris.

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A replicated, before-and-after, site comparison study in 2008–2009 in a coastal salt marsh in North Carolina, USA (Uhrin & Schellinger 2011) found that following removal of crab pots and tyres from the marsh, smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora height and density typically recovered to undisturbed levels within a year. Immediately before intervention, impacted patches contained fewer cordgrass stems (120–133 stems/m2) than undisturbed marsh (300–370 stems/m2). There was a similar trend (not statistically significant) for the maximum height of cordgrass (impacted: 34–62 cm; undisturbed: 72–80 cm). Patches cleared of crab pots consistently had similar cordgrass height to undisturbed marsh from 22 weeks after clearance (cleared: 25–81 cm; undisturbed: 30–87 cm) and statistically similar cordgrass density to undisturbed marsh from 42 weeks (cleared: 167–229 stems/m2; undisturbed: 302–414 stems/m2). Patches cleared of tyres consistently had similar cordgrass height to undisturbed marsh from 45 weeks (cleared: 50–85 cm; undisturbed: 53–87 cm). However, cordgrass densities remained significantly lower in cleared than undisturbed marsh over the whole study year (33 of 35 comparisons; cleared: 84–273 stems/m2; undisturbed: 287–538 stems/m2). Methods: In August or September 2008, seven wire crab pots and seven vehicle tyres were removed from a salt marsh. Vegetation was surveyed under the debris before removal, then regularly after removal until September 2009. In each survey, live cordgrass stems were counted and measured in 1–2 quadrats covering the footprint of each pot or tyre (including stems growing through the centre of tyres) and seven quadrats in undisturbed patches of the marsh.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, paired, site comparison study in 2013–2015 in a coastal salt marsh in New York State, USA (Ehl et al. 2017) found that patches cleared of stranded wooden debris developed similar vegetation cover to undisturbed marsh within two growing seasons. Immediately after removing debris, the cleared patches contained less vegetation (density: <5 shoots/m2; cover: 1–2%) than adjacent undisturbed marsh (density: 290 shoots/m2; cover: 96%). After one growing season, overall vegetation abundance had increased in the cleared patches (density: 98–114 shoots/m2; cover: 28–33%) but was still lower than in undisturbed marsh (density: 292 shoots/m2; cover: 96%). The same was generally true for the abundance of the two dominant species, smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora and saltgrass Distichlis spicata, although saltgrass cover was statistically similar in cleared patches and undisturbed marsh (see original paper for data). After two growing seasons, vegetation cover was statistically similar in the cleared patches and undisturbed marsh (density not recorded). This was true for overall cover (cleared: 69–74%; undisturbed: 79%), smooth cordgrass (cleared: 42–45%; undisturbed: 51%) and saltgrass (cleared: 23–25%; undisturbed: 21%). Methods: Five chunks of wooden storm debris (1–4 m2) were cleared from a salt marsh. Initial clearance took place in October 2013, although part of each patch was re-covered over winter then permanently cleared in March 2014. Between October 2013 (after initial clearance) and August 2015, vegetation was surveyed within each cleared patch and its adjacent undisturbed marsh.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Taylor N.G., Grillas P., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Marsh and Swamp Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions to Conserve Marsh and Swamp Vegetation. Conservation Evidence Series Synopses. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

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Marsh and Swamp Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Marsh and Swamp Conservation
Marsh and Swamp Conservation

Marsh and Swamp Conservation - Published 2021

Marsh and Swamp Synopsis

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