by Joe Ports, Chesapeake Conservation Corps Member
If you have spent some time near the mouths of the West and Rhode Rivers this beautiful spring you may have noticed some barges and boats working on Cheston Point. This is not a new development going in, it’s a living shoreline! Cheston Point’s living shoreline is being created by a partnership between the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), which owns the land.
For years, waves from wind and boat traffic have been battering Cheston Point, as you can see by the trees that are falling into the water. The design of this particular living shoreline will include several rock structures known as breakwaters that will be both above and below water. [See the design here.] These breakwaters are a series of horseshoe shaped piles of rocks that are meant to do two jobs; break up wave energy and collect sand behind them. Sand will then be placed behind the breakwaters to create a beach to plant with grasses and shrubs. The breakwaters will defend the shoreline from the wave action, and prevent erosion and allow natural marsh grasses to hold the beach together.
The purpose of this shoreline, as is with many others, is to stabilize the shoreline while providing native habitat for animals. To create this habitat the beach will be planted with native grasses; Saltmeadow Cordgrass (Spartina patens) in the areas that are above the high tide line and Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) in the areas that get flooded with the tides. There will also likely be some woody shrubs added such as High Tide Bush (Baccharis halimifolia).
What is currently being done at Cheston Point is just the beginning of a larger project to create living shoreline all along the point. The first section of the shoreline is expected to be completed in approximately one month and plants will be added 6 months to a year after the conclusion of the work to allow the sand and stone to settle.
The Cheston Point project is an example of what can happen when two very large organizations work together to build a shoreline, however similar projects can be completed by homeowners associations and even private homeowners. An example of a project being completed by a private homeowner can be found in Popham Creek. Here the homeowner has a severely eroding shoreline and sought to build her own living shoreline. She received an interest-free loan from Maryland Department of Natural Resources and a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust for about 25% of the total cost. West/Rhode Riverkeeper is pleased to partner with the homeowner, and is serving as the fiscal agent (to manage the grant).
Converting eroding shoreline or hard, bulkheaded areas to living shorelines can improve water quality and habitat. Living shorelines work to reduce resuspension of sediment by making the wave energy spread throughout a gently sloping shoreline and among all the plants that are growing on it. This is very different from the use of bulkheads, which sharply reflect wave energy away from them and allow that energy to stir up sediment, reducing the ability of underwater grasses to take hold and grow.
These financial resources are available for everyone to take advantage of and West/Rhode Riverkeeper supports private efforts to improve the shoreline environment. If living shorelines were widely adopted throughout the Rivers and Chesapeake Bay, fish, crabs and underwater grasses would be a lot healthier and a lot happy. Lets all start to think what we can do to get the healthy rivers that we deserve.
Here is where you can find some great information on living shorelines in a hand-out created by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. http://www.cbf.org/Document.Doc?id=60
For some ideas of what you could do with your own shoreline check out this decision tree: http://www.ccrm.vims.edu/decisiontree/index.html. This tree is a great way to think about what you and your neighbors may be able to do with old bulkheads or rip rap to build a more environmentally friendly structure.
To find out how to apply for your own living shoreline project you can look at DNR’s website here: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/ccp/sec/secforms.asp