Welcome back to the marsh! Today we’re visiting a very special, brand new marsh, the James River Association’s very first living shoreline!

Living shorelines are a stabilized shoreline made from natural materials, including sand, marsh plants, and sometimes oyster shells. This has the benefit of creating habitat while simultaneously slowing or stopping erosion. During a storm event, such as a hurricane, sea walls or bulkheads may become weakened or even fail. Whereas a living shoreline can be quite resilient! Native grasses such as smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) can grow quite tall and attenuate wave energy and at the same time anchor down sediment with their very robust root network. If the stems become broken or fall over, they quickly regenerate.


How are these shorelines created? First of all, no two are alike! But in tidal creeks with a relatively small fetch (the distance of which wind can blow over water) a coconut fiber coir log is placed ahead of an area of erosion. Behind this log, sand is filled in and graded to match the elevation of a nearby marsh. Native marsh plants are then selected based on local habitat type and placed in the sand. Goose fencing is installed around the project area to protect the young plants from Canada geese as they become established. In higher energy environments, such as on larger rivers or the Chesapeake Bay, sills constructed of oyster shell bags, oyster castles, or stone may be placed in front of the coir log for added protection from erosion. The addition of substrate can allow juvenile oysters, also known as “spat”, to adhere and grow up. Hopefully eventually forming a reef!

The James River Association is working to increase the number of living shorelines within the Lower James Watershed by not only constructing demonstration projects, but by also helping to form a Living Shoreline Collaborative with local nonprofits, governments, contractors, scientists, and concerned citizens. Would you like to learn more? Visit https://thejamesriver.org/livingshorelines/ today!