Living Shorelines and the Efficacy of Oyster Reefs in Mitigating Wave Action and Erosive Processes

Author:Hopkinson, Cece, Arts & Sciences UndergraduateUniversity of Virginia

Global climate change poses a significant threat to coastal communities worldwide, with sea level rise, flooding, intense and frequent storms, accelerated erosion, and storm surge, resulting in billions of dollars of damage. A critical part in addressing these threats lies in coastal adaptation strategies, which will grow in importance as climate change and sea level rise continue. Living shorelines are a nature-based approach to coastal adaptation that utilize native species to increase resilience against erosion and flooding while providing a broad range of benefits known as “ecosystem services.” Ecosystems within living shorelines can include marsh grasses, eelgrass, mangrove, coral, and oysters, each of which provides its own benefits to a coastal resilience strategy. Oyster reefs provide a utility similar to that of a breakwater by weakening wave action and decreasing erosion, while providing ecological enhancements such as water filtration, improved biodiversity, and increased benthic-pelagic coupling. In addition, oyster reefs are a more cost-effective option than built infrastructure. They can serve as the backbone of more effective adaptation approaches, whether as a living shoreline or a hybrid approach, not only offering protection against erosion, but also extending the lifetime of built infrastructure. Oyster reefs require specific environmental factors to recruit properly and to reach full potential. The required conditions can be found in a number of locations, and include variables such as salinity, temperature, dissolved nutrients, and lack of competitors or predators. Oysters are resilient; they have the capability to grow as fast as sea level rise, and can even adapt to unfit conditions in some settings. Choosing the right substrate for recruitment purposes can also help enhance oyster growth, with a variety of options available to tailor the approach to a specific location. Oyster reefs offer great potential as a coastal adaptation measure, offering greater benefits and durability at lower cost than built infrastructure. Reef construction and restoration provide extensive economic and ecological benefits as a resilience strategy against sea level rise and erosion.

This report was created as part of the Spring 2020 capstone course for the Global Environments and Sustainability major at the University of Virginia. Work was directed by Professor Deborah Lawrence

GSVS, GSVScapstone, GSVS2020, Living Shorelines, Oyster Reef, Coastal Adaptation, Ecological Engineering, Oysters, Salt Marsh , Erosion Control
University of Virginia
Published Date:
May 18th, 2020