Protecting an Island Community in the Chesapeake

Smith island marsh
Smith island marsh

Marsh land at Smith Island, Maryland. Credit: USFWS.

Smith Island is the only inhabited island in the Chesapeake Bay accessible solely by boat (there are other inhabited islands that can be reached by bridges). Most of the island’s residents make their living from the water that surrounds them – crabbing is a chief occupation.

But life is changing on the island. Fewer people live here, and the island itself is disappearing at an alarming rate due to a combination of sea-level rise, erosion and the natural sinking of its low-lying lands.

The islanders are tackling these challenges head on in multiple ways. One protective strategy includes a 21,000-foot living shoreline recently built by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Glenn L. Martin National Wildlife Refuge, which includes the northern half of Smith Island.

USFWS biologist Matt Whitbeck and Smith Island waterman Mark Kitching. Credit: USFWS

USFWS biologist Matt Whitbeck (right) and Smith Island waterman Mark Kitching (left). Credit: USFWS

The living shoreline will help buffer wave energy and stabilize the shoreline, which has been eroding as much as 10-15 feet per year in some areas. Made of rock breakwaters and a restored marsh to help re-create wetlands already lost to erosion, the living shoreline was funded with $9 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

The unique community of Smith Island and the USFWS living shoreline project are featured in a recent episode of “The Changing Chesapeake” by NBC-Washington.

Watch the news clip and then check out our video about the living shoreline project to help protect Smith Island!

Aerial view of living shoreline Glenn L. Martin National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS

An aerial view of the recently completed living shoreline at Glenn L. Martin National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS.

Smith Island

Fishing boats on Smith Island, Maryland. Credit: USFWS.

Learn more about the Fog Point Living Shoreline Restoration project at Glenn L. Martin National Wildlife Refuge.

2 Comments on “Protecting an Island Community in the Chesapeake

  1. What about Tangier Island? Last I saw it was in the Chesapeake Bay?

    • Good question! Tangier Island is accessible by small aircraft, the only way to get to Smith Island is via watercraft.

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