The fourth and final living shoreline has been installed at the DuPont Nature Center in Milford. The project was conducted by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary with assistance from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC). This living shoreline joins others that are thriving in Lewes, Indian River Marina and in Money Island, New Jersey.
“A living shoreline is a more natural approach to fight erosion,” said Jennifer Adkins, Executive Director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. “We are trying to mimic a more natural shoreline using coconut fiber logs that trap sediment that builds up over time to create more shoreline. Today, we are planting native plants in front of the log to create natural habitats for wildlife in the area and to help reduce erosion.”
According to Angela Padeletti, Science Coordinator for the partnership, the group purchases some shore grass from local nurseries, but, whenever possible, they salvage clumps of native grasses that are going to be submerged and drown. She says the salvaged clumps seem to work better than those purchased as they have an established root system and are in native mud.
“The living shoreline is an alternative to rock piles and bulkheads which have few ecological benefits,” said Ms. Padeletti. “There are areas where a bulkhead is necessary. For example, if the goal is to protect a building along the shoreline, a rock pile or bulkhead may have to be installed. However, there are ways to incorporate the living shoreline along with bulkheads and rock piles. For instance, in Rehoboth, we are experimenting with adding beach grass in front of rock piles so that we keep the habitats intact while also protecting buildings.” Ms. Padeletti explained that there is no “cookie cutter” design that will work everywhere and that each area must be evaluated extensively to determine which option will work and which will not.
According to scientists working on the project, living shorelines require a significant amount of monitoring. Data is collected for a year before steps are implemented and the area will continue to be monitored to determine how the marsh is doing, whether fish are gathering and to determine where adjustments need to be made.
“In the first project we did in New Jersey, fishermen in the area told us we were crazy,” Ms. Padeletti said. “A month later, they met us in the parking lot telling us how excited they were, that they were catching fish and using the area to set up minnow traps. This shows that we are not just doing this for today, but for the future, so our kids and their kids will be able to enjoy the marsh, to see piping plovers and to simply enjoy Mother Nature. We are not trying to control Mother Nature, but trying to work with her.”
In addition to the coconut logs and beach grasses that help reduce erosion along the shoreline, the group has also created what are known as oyster castles to aid the naturally occurring oyster beds that form in the marsh.
“Oysters are natural filters, pulling gallons and gallons of water through their bodies every day,” said Danielle Kreeger, Science Director for the partnership. “The oyster castles allow baby oysters to attach to a structure to help them grow. The oysters here are not harvested as they are in other wetland areas.” In addition to the oyster population that the group hopes to grow, the living shoreline helps grow the mussel population which act as the foundation of the marsh by filtering water much like oysters do, the scientists explained.
The process is relatively new, according to Ms. Kreeger, with the first project developed in 2008. Because it is new, there is little data on how well the shorelines hold up, although there are areas that have been thriving in New Jersey since 2008. Ms. Kreeger said that there had been some damage to some of the coconut logs in one area this winter due to the harsh weather and ice build-up.
“We are going to start contractor training next year,” Ms. Adkins said. “We want to begin offering this service to homeowners who may want to use a living shoreline as an option along waterways. It is the perfect solution to those who want to build along the beach but not damage the ecosystem. Living shorelines boost ecology, provide aesthetics to property and protect coastal communities. It is also an effective way to protect against natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy.”
Ms. Adkins also says that installing living shorelines, despite the monitoring requirements, are less expensive than bulkheads. Water can get behind rock piles and bulkheads, causing them to fail. Ms. Adkins explained that living shorelines are more adaptable to changing environments.
“We are losing as much as an acre of marsh per day due to erosion,” Ms. Kreeger explained. “We need to begin looking at more natural options to keep our shorelines intact for generations to come.” The living shoreline project in Milford was funded with grants from the DNREC Clean Water State Revolving Fund Water Quality Improvement program and The Welfare Foundation.