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Great Marsh phragmites fight goes online

Geoffrey Walker, a Newbury selectman and a Ducks Unlimited member, checked a stand of phragmites in a marsh near Little Pine Island.Mark Wilson/Globe Staff/File 2005

NEWBURYPORT – The three casually dressed guys gathered around a diner table on a rainy afternoon looked like they might be planning a fishing trip. Instead the topic was a Kickstarter campaign aimed at fighting their common enemy: phragmites.

The fast-spreading invasive reed formally known as Phragmites australis arrived here from Europe perhaps a century ago, but has spread quickly through parts of the Great Marsh in recent decades. Some people think it looks pretty.

But phragmites grow in thick stands that top 10 feet, crowding out native plants and making an inhospitable environment for birds and marine life. Eventually they could permanently damage the entire 20,000-plus-acre marsh ecosystem, which along the coast stretches from Gloucester into New Hampshire.


Now Peter Phippen, Geoffrey Walker, and Richard Hydren, along with University of New Hampshire assistant research professor Gregg Moore, are fighting back using Kickstarter and YouTube.

“In the short-term, so the marsh doesn’t turn into the New Jersey Meadowlands, we’re addressing phragmites and trying to control and manage it, while we’re doing the long-term research,” said Phippen, coastal resources coordinator for the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission.

The trio began working together as part of the Great Marsh Revitalization Task Force, an interagency group with more than 40 participants.

Hydren, president of the Rowley Chamber of Commerce, is a videographer, and he’ll be behind the camera for a series of videos they’ll make through this year’s growing season under the title “Danger in the Reeds.” The videos will feature Phippen, Moore, and Walker, a Newbury selectman and a Ducks Unlimited member.

The videos will show why phragmites are a threat; detail the short-term efforts to control their population through cutting and chemicals; and explain long-term studies intended to better understand the plant.


“Phragmites treatment is not a sexy thing to fund, and it’s getting harder to find money,” said Phippen. The group hopes the videos will raise awareness among the general public and the business community as to the threat the reed presents.

It is trying to raise $8,000 via a “crowd-funding” campaign for new equipment and other expenses. The all-or-nothing fund-raising campaign runs through next Wednesday, and as of a few days ago had cleared the $5,000 level.

Rewards for donors include a complete set of the videos on DVD, with invitations to a lobster bake with the team and — for a $1,000 contribution — a plane ride over the marsh with one of the experts to get a wide view of the problem.

The videos will be posted on YouTube and accessible via codes posted on informative signs around the marsh. Additionally, groups that support their efforts, such as Essex County Greenbelt and the Essex National Heritage Commission, are interested in posting the videos on their websites and using them as educational tools.

To donate or learn more, visit

Joel Brown can be reached at