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  • Writer's picture Katherine Morse

Coastal Marshlands Protection Act to a Research Vessel 50 Years Later

By: Katherine W. Morse, August 13, 2020

Many who have gone on out Lighthouse Trolleys Land and Sea Tours may know Reid Walker Harris, Jr. and heard the story of his father, Reid Walker Harris, and the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act. In case you missed it or want further information, here is your chance. First, the state of Georgia has about 100 miles of coastline with 14 barrier islands with nine major estuaries, including the salt marsh and open water as in the Atlantic Ocean (The Nature Conservancy, n/d).

The Golden Isles, which encompasses Brunswick, St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island, offers tours and ways both locals and visitors to experience the uniqueness of the ecology beyond visiting just the beaches. The protection of the coastal line began with Reid’s father, Reid Walker Harris. Reid W. Harris was a Georgia native. In 1964 Harris was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. Serving six years, Harris authored several conservation laws that included the Georgia Surface Mining Act of 1968 and the act that preserved the marshlands, the Coastal Marshland Protection Act of 1970.

What is the salt marsh? There are about 378,000 acres of salt marsh, and of that, Georgia has nearly 1/3 of the total salt march in eastern North America (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, n/d). If you have ever visited Jekyll or St. Simons Islands, the causeways to both drive through the salt marsh. Salt marshes are coastal wetland areas that flood and drain with saltwater from the ocean tides (National Ocean Service, 2019). The marshy part is made detritus or peat, decomposing dead stuff like the grasses and animals, and sometimes referred to as pluff mud. According to the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant through the University of Georgia (n/d), five ecological zones make up the marsh. Those are the levee marsh, low marsh, high marsh, marsh border, and transition zone. To learn more about these zones, visit

So, what is the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act? It is CMPA for short. The act regulates the activity and water-dependent structures and requires a permit for marinas, community docks, bridges, and so forth (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, n/d). The act that helps keep the marshes of Georgia safe and protect is thanks to Reid Harris 50 years ago. The anniversary was on March 27, 2020.

The act that was passed preserved over a half-million acres of Georgia’s salt marshes and Reid Harris is considered a champion when it comes to environmental legislation (Dickson, 2009). In honor of his foresight in the preservation to protect the marshlands of Georgia and the rest of the eastern seaboard, he was honored by having a research vessel built for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, DNR, named the Reid W. Harris (Rappaport, 2020). The vessel can carry 18 passengers with 2 crew members and was constructed by Maine boatbuilders in Hancock County (Rappaport, 2020).

On Friday, June 24, 2020, Reid Harris and Cap Fendig were at the DNR’s docks in Brunswick, Georgia, to watch the Reid W. Harris get christened. The vessel will have 36 sites from the Savannah River to the St. Mary’s, where it will conduct timed trawls to research protecting the vital natural resource of Georgia’s coastline (Hobbs, 2020).

*All Photographs are thanks to Cap Fendig.


Dickson, T. (2009). Former Georgia Rep. Harris Gets DNR’S Top Award. The Florida Times-Union.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources. (n/d). Marsh and Shore Permits. Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Coastal Resources Division.

The Nature Conservancy. (n/d). Georgia’s Distinctive Coastal Area is so Unique that Conservation is a Priority–Regionally, Nationally–Even Globally.,and%20long%2Dleaf%20pine%20forests.

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, University of Georgia. (n/d). Salt Marsh Ecology.

National Ocean Service. (2019). What is a Salt Marsh?

Rappaport, S. (2020). Maine-Made Research Vessel Headed for Georgia Coastline. The Ellsworth American.

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