A Natural Approach to Building a Stronger Coast

A partner-funded “oyster castle”, an example of a living shoreline technique using blocks made of shell, limestone and concrete, is being monitored for effectiveness at Gandy’s Beach on the Jersey shore.

What is a “living shoreline?” An article recently posted in the Spring 2015 edition of Fish and Wildlife News and the Service’s Open Spaces Blog details how this natural method of shoreline protection is being used to support four Hurricane Sandy recovery projects led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In the article, Brittany Bowker, a former Hurricane Sandy youth story corps Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern, provides an overview of the federally funded living shoreline projects making progress in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.

Coir logs, an example of a living shoreline technique using interwoven coconut fibers bound together with biodegradable netting, are set in place at Gandy’s Beach on the Jersey shore to provide temporary physical protection to a site while vegetation becomes established.

Coir logs, an example of a living shoreline technique using interwoven coconut fibers bound together with biodegradable netting, are set in place at Gandy’s Beach on the Jersey shore to provide temporary physical protection to a site while vegetation becomes established. Credit: Katie Conrad/USFWS

There was a time when shoreline protection often meant installing hard structures like bulkheads or riprap to armor the coast against erosion and rising sea levels. But starting in the early 1980s, a “softer” approach — called “living shorelines” — has been transforming the conservation of these important natural areas by allowing the coast to heal itself.

By using a variety of natural materials such as sand and marsh grasses combined with some structure, this method not only protects vulnerable coasts, but also maintains their ecological continuity and stability. Living shorelines have become a new and widely used method of shoreline protection, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website.

Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has boosted this effort along the Atlantic Coast, currently supporting four living shoreline projects managed by the Service:

  •  Fog Point in Smith Island, Maryland, where 21,000 feet of living shoreline planned for the site will protect near by communities and coastline.

    Aerial view of Fog Point in Smith Island, Maryland, where 21,000 feet of living shoreline planned for the site will protect nearby communities and coastline. Credit: Keith Shannon/USFWS

    At Hail Cove on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, $1.5 million will help construct 4,000 feet of living shoreline. By placing sand within rock breakwaters along the eroded marsh banks, the project will create a more suitable environment for the island’s migratory birds and nesting diamondback terrapins.

  • At Fog Point, also on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a $9 million project to build 21,000 feet of living shoreline will help protect nearby communities from the effects of intense storms and sea-level rise, as well as wildlife and habitat at Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge. Matt Whitbeck, a biologist with the Service’s Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, says this is considered an area of extremely high wave energy, so complex-hybrid construction will be used.
  • Waves crashing at Gandy’s Beach before living shoreline construction. Hurricane Sandy flooded Delaware Bay and eroded salt marsh habitat.

    Waves crashing at Gandy’s Beach before living shoreline construction. Hurricane Sandy flooded Delaware Bay and eroded salt marsh habitat. Credit: Katie Conrad/USFWS

    At Gandy’s Beach in New Jersey, $880,000 in Sandy funds will help construct living shoreline along 4,000 feet of shore to restore its salt marsh and adjacent uplands. By enhancing these areas’ natural defenses, communities will be better protected against future storm surges.

  • At Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, $550,000 will help construct 3,650 feet of living shoreline and two acres of oyster reef to help protect the refuge as well as its surrounding communities. Kevin Holcomb, a wildlife biologist at the refuge, says this will be an opportunity “for people to see what we’re doing and how living shorelines can lessen the impacts of storm surge on their own properties.”

Finish reading this post at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Open Spaces blog!

 

3 Comments on “A Natural Approach to Building a Stronger Coast

  1. Pingback: Shells and students: Building living reefs in southern New Jersey | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

  2. Pingback: Progress and Protection in the Chesapeake Bay | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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