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Marblehead residents encounter unexpected marsh animals during blizzard

Posted by Terri Ogan  February 12, 2013 11:02 AM

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Goldthwait Reservation picnic area.jpg
Goldthwait Reservation picnic area after being pounded by winter storm Nemo.

As winter storm Nemo pounded the North Shore on Saturday afternoon, Marblehead resident Troy Anderson, 51, and his daughter Lyndsey, decided to brave the blizzard and take a walk down to the ocean to check out what damage the neighborhood had sustained.

They trekked towards the Goldthwait Reservation; a private, non-profit land trust of approximately 12 acres, comprised of Goldthwait Beach, surrounding land area and a salt marsh. Phillips Street was on lockdown because of the parking ban and the snow was shooting down with intensity.

Neither Troy nor his 10-year-old daughter were expecting to see what was swimming ahead.

As they approached the area, about four other neighbors were gazing down in awe at the flooded streets, as a baby eel and small fish were fighting the currents trying to get back to their salt-marsh home. The fish are called mummichogs, which are small egg-laying fish that live in coastal waters, like salt marshes and estuaries, in eastern Massachusetts.

Not only did the historic blizzard tear through the region dumping more than two feet of snow on the North Shore, but it dragged animals out of their delicate ecosystem home, a piece of land that has a significant meaning to its neighbors.

“As we were peering down looking at the fish, this baby eel, which was still alive, came swirling by,” Troy said. “It was the weirdest looking thing I had ever seen. It wasn’t a worm, it wasn’t a snake, it was baby eel. The ocean was coming over the rocks, forcing out some of the creatures that are normally in the marsh.”

Lyndsey used a plastic bag that was in her coat pocket to try and scoop some of the fish up from the flooded street. With the help of her father, Lyndsey was only able to save a few fish and throw them back in the marsh. The rest froze to death, Troy said.

“I had never seen that before and we’ve lived there for over 15 years,” Troy said. “It brought home how big the storm was, how big the waves were and the fact that we live in a maritime environment. How many times can you see a storm surge bring fish swimming onto the street?”

The Goldthwait Reservation has recently become an attractive place where residents and visitors alike can barbeque with friends, read a book, or even roast marshmallows by a campfire.

A board of trustees and a board-of-directors oversee the private property. The trustees appoint the directors who do everything from fundraising, to overseeing maintenance of the property and writing proposals for restoration, among other things.

Fiona Lubbock, a trustee and active volunteer, has lived on Goldthwait Road for over 20 years and goes down to the reservation at least once a day to pick up any lingering trash and make sure the land is in good shape. She was in the midst of Nemo’s chaos as Lyndsey and Troy were rescuing the fish.

“People question, well it’s just a swamp,” Lubbock said. “But it isn’t just a swamp. It’s a delicate and important eco system that needs to be protected and cared for. That’s why we tend to be strict about certain rules.”

These rules include no alcohol, ensuring that dogs stay on leashes at all times and that no one goes on the property after 10:30 p.m.

The property is getting a lot more use, Lubbock said. Every year the local Boy Scouts camp out for two or three nights and every year a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) fraternity comes out and does community service on the reservation. Around 70 people come for the annual cleanup as well, usually before beach season kicks off.

People in the neighborhood, Lubbock added, not only volunteer to create an area for the community to enjoy, but to sustain the environment as well.

“Our big thing right now is trying to restore the salt marsh because salt marshes have this wonderful ability to cleanse the water around it,” Lubbock said. “The grass around the salt marsh has this amazing ability to pull pollutants out from the water.”

As for damage from the storm it’s hard to tell. Feet of snow remain piled on top of the grassy marsh leaving the amount of damage difficult to determine.

Troy Anderson has walked his Golden Retriever, Sarah, to and from the reservation a few times since his run in with fish and baby eels and said that everything looks normal and the flooding has subsided.

“We were amazed seeing all the water,” Troy said. “Now all the signs of the water are gone.”

Terri Ogan can be contacted at oganglobe@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter.

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