Hillman Marsh has been under ecological threat since the 1970’s when approximately 80% of the natural vegetation and habitat was lost as a result of rising water levels, increased contaminant and nutrient runoff, and increased storm events. Before breaching, this extensive, shallow marsh was separated from Lake Erie by Hillman Beach, a 1.5 km long, eastern facing barrier beach. Its isolation from the lake helped to protect it from the fluctuations in lake water levels, however, in 2017, harsh lake conditions resulted in significant erosion and the initiation of a storm-induced breach. Record high lake levels and storms, coupled with near record low ice cover in the following years resulted in the rapid expansion of the breach to almost 500 metres, leaving Hillman Marsh exposed to the forces of Lake Erie and highly vulnerable to current and future climate change impacts. Shoreline development to the north and south of the Hillman Marsh shoreline has cut off the sediment supply that nourishes and maintains the beach, preventing natural recovery. This lack of recovery leads to further erosion and barrier retreat, subjecting the sensitive and vulnerable ecosystems in the marsh to altered water quality, disturbed habitat, and the strong waves and conditions of Lake Erie.

This project highlights a need for the restoration and climate adaptation of the Hillman Marsh Conservation Area, as it is past the point of natural recovery.  Without immediate action, the variety of habitats, which support marsh, shore, field, and migratory birds, will be lost along with the hundreds of homes and businesses that this coastal wetland protects from destructive flood events.