Amherst, Mass. (WWLP) – Researchers from UMass Amherst have lately been working to restore wetlands and explain why Massachusetts is leading the charge toward healthier ecosystems.

In eastern Massachusetts, cranberry bogs were investigated and are looking to be restored. A UMass Amherst news release demonstrated how best the cradle of cranberry production in the United States has been more than 14,000 acres under cultivation. These cranberries thrive in acidic peat bogs.

“Instead of thick masses of peat,” says Christine Hatch, extension professor of earth, geographic and climate sciences at UMass Amherst, lead author of the paper on recovering groundwater and a member of the commonwealth’s Water Resources Commission, “these human-altered cranberry bogs look like a Kit Kat bar when you dig down into them.” 

The explanation for this is chocolate-colored layers of peat are interspersed with wafer-colored layers of sand. Opposed to peat that acts like a sponge, soaking up and holding groundwater, the sand, is deposited in inch-thick layers. As stated in the news release it, “acts like a drain and can help get rid of excess water, as well as increase yields and suppress weeds and pests.” Which has been done by cranberry farmers every few years over the past 15 decades.

Author Hatch calls them “anthropogenic aquifers,” which perform differently from natural ones. The cranberry bogs are expected to cease production. Massachusetts is therefore returning the bogs to their natural state.

“Massachusetts has recognized that wetlands are incredibly important resources,” says Hatch. “They’re the most biodiverse ecosystems we have. And they perform all sorts of ecosystem services, from managing floodwaters to storing carbon and purifying drinking water. They’re also fantastic sites for recreation. The state has committed generous resources to restore these wetlands, which makes me proud to live in Massachusetts.” 

Hatch claims that it is difficult to create a wetland from scratch. Instead, Hatch suggests restoring what was once a wetland. This is done by returning the groundwater to its slow pre-agricultural rate of flow and holding on to that water as mentioned in the news release.  “You have to deal with all that sand,” says Hatch. “In the perfect scenario, we’d dig it all out, down to the untouched deposits of solid peat,” she continues, “but that’s cost-prohibitive and risks disturbing decades’ worth of pesticides that growers have sprayed over their bogs.” 

The research was conducted at two sites near Plymouth. It was founded that it was not necessary to remove the sand from the bog. Rather only necessary to move it around, mixing it into the layers of peat.

They next discovered how groundwater was spending more time moving through a restored bog. “We show that, at these restored bogs, groundwater is remaining in the area, not moving off of it,” says Watts. “This means that restoration is successful, and the bogs will quickly return to self-sustaining ecosystems.”

“Restoring buried wetlands to their previous ecological glory has a very high success rate,” adds Hatch. “That success depends on getting groundwater to stay in the system. We’ve shown how to do that, and our research can help us conserve one of our most treasured ecosystems.”