Re-Engineering Living Shorelines for High-Energy Coastal Environments

  • The Intracoastal waterway experiences high rates of shoreline erosion due to boat wake and wave energy

    The Intracoastal waterway experiences high rates of shoreline erosion due to boat wake and wave energy

  • Researchers and restoration practitioners tested a new living shoreline technique to protect and restore salt marsh and oyster reef

    Researchers and restoration practitioners tested a new living shoreline technique to protect and restore salt marsh and oyster reef

  • Porous wooden breakwalls are a first line of defense to dissipate wave and wake energy

    Porous wooden breakwalls are a first line of defense to dissipate wave and wake energy

  • Gabions (cages filled with oyster shell) are positioned behind breakwalls to foster oyster growth

    Gabions (cages filled with oyster shell) are positioned behind breakwalls to foster oyster growth

  • The project team, GTM NERR staff, students and volunteers installed and monitored six living shoreline sites from 2017 to 2019

    The project team, GTM NERR staff, students and volunteers installed and monitored six living shoreline sites from 2017 to 2019

  • Their data show the effectiveness of this living shoreline design and oyster growth equivalent to naturally-occurring reef

    Their data show the effectiveness of this living shoreline design and oyster growth equivalent to naturally-occurring reef

  • The project has inspired similar living shoreline treatments in nearby estuaries

    The project has inspired similar living shoreline treatments in nearby estuaries

  • The team is continuing to analyze multiple field data sets related to the impact of boat wakes

    The team is continuing to analyze multiple field data sets related to the impact of boat wakes

  • And the team continues to collaborate with new partners to inform boater behavior

    And the team continues to collaborate with new partners to inform boater behavior

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.