Living Shorelines – Horizontal is the New Vertical
How do I protect my waterfront property from erosion? Is a bulkhead stronger than a natural shoreline? The conventional solution to protecting a homeowners’ property was to build a bulkhead as a shoreline defense. The problem with this approach is it prohibits the coast or river system from doing its job – exchanging sediment between land and sea which provides wave absorption, water filtering, natural erosion reduction, and vital plant and animal habitat.
While bulkheads have some practical applications, a relatively new approach to the age-old problem of erosion is a living shoreline.
A living shoreline incorporates natural buffers to absorb wave energy and accrete sediment by using oyster reefs, wetland plants, sand, and coir fiber logs. It’s also far less expensive and requires less maintenance than a traditional bulkhead. In the aftermath of recent Hurricane Matthew that hit the coasts of central and northeast Florida, numerous seawalls and bulkheads were damaged or washed out to sea. However, living shorelines, such as the demonstration site in New Smyrna Beach, reported to have had little to no damage.
In 2012, Onsite Environmental Consulting, LLC of Jacksonville, Florida, launched plans to create a living shoreline demonstration site located on the Trout River at the south boundary of the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens. The 180-foot linear shoreline has experienced significant erosion due to the rip-rap that was placed along the shoreline. With the help of the City of Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board and grants, OEC is moving forward on the project by initiating permits with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers, as well as taking soil samples, measuring the success of oyster spat reproduction at the site via spat poles, and ground truthing other extant conditions at the site.
The goal of the project is to re-establish stabilization to the shoreline and improving water quality by increasing oyster habitat which is a major filter to remove water quality contaminants. To prevent further erosion along the shoreline, OEC will plant spartina or smooth cordgrass (Spartina alternaflora), therefore creating habitat and supporting native species. Spartina is an important food source for endangered West Indian manatees and other marine animals. This marsh plant also plays a critical role in stabilizing shorelines, reducing erosion, filtering sediment from runoff and increasing water quality by reducing turbidity.
In addition, the project will provide education to the public on living shorelines and alternatives to shoreline hardening. Park Guides reached over 750,000 guests with informal educational interactions. The project is designed to heighten interest by homeowners and contractors and to provide a successful demonstration of the Living Shoreline Protection approach. Graduate students from Jacksonville University Marine Science Center and students from the Academy of Coastal Sciences (ACES) at Terry Parker High School will be monitoring the site for results. The educational outreach to students will raise interest and understanding of the importance of our natural resources and provide a viable way to help protect them.
OEC is excited as this project continues to unfold and we look forward to extending Living Shoreline design and installation services to future residential and commercial waterfront clients looking for a viable alternative to traditional bulkhead structures.