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Re-Engineering Living Shorelines for High-Energy Coastal Environments

Project Photo

Estuaries worldwide face an alarming loss of salt marsh and oyster reef habitats, especially along high-energy shorelines where there is significant boat wake and wave action. Living shorelines, a form of natural bank stabilization, offer coastal managers a promising approach to dampen boat wake and wave stress, mitigate erosion, and restore habitats. However, typical living shoreline designs have been largely unsuccessful under high-energy conditions.

This project tested a new hybrid method that uses ecological and engineering approaches and has been used successfully in the Netherlands. The project’s ”gabion-break” design uses two lines of defense to reduce erosion along the marsh edge - porous wooden breakwalls placed in front of structures that will foster oyster growth. An in-depth study monitored boat wake and wave energy, oyster reef development, and salt marsh edge movement to evaluate the effectiveness of the gabion-breaks for protecting and enhancing coastal habitat in areas with high boat traffic. The project team incorporated findings into training activities for restoration practitioners and coastal managers and interpretive exhibits for reserve visitors.