More Than Meets the Eye
How Shoreline Restoration Can Improve Our Natural World
Shorelines across the Chesapeake Bay watershed have been disappearing for centuries. Since Captain John Smith’s exploration of the area in 1608, the Bay has lost half of its forested shoreline, more than half its wetlands, almost 80 percent of its underwater grasses and more than 98 percent of its oysters. And the damage continues today, as rising sea levels and human activity take their toll on these critical habitats.
Manmade shoreline structures like bulkheads, revetment and concrete seawalls may appear to be solid enough to withstand the erosive effects of water, waves and wind, but a more natural shoreline provides more stability than you might think—plus, it creates a natural habitat for a variety of local wildlife.
Developing one of these “living shorelines” involves creating a riparian buffer, or vegetated area, above the tidal line with native trees and shrubs; planting native grasses, shrubs and trees along the tidal water line; planting underwater grasses in shallow water; and sometimes placing oyster shells adjacent to shorelines to create a habitat for living oysters and other plants and animals. Native plants are used because of their expansive roots that hold soil in place and slow erosion from water and overland runoff.
These natural buffers play a critical role in the Bay’s water quality, trapping sediments in stormwater runoff and removing harmful nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, that cause algae blooms. The shade from these trees, shrubs and grasses keeps water temperatures cool and helps increase oxygen levels for the aquatic animals that inhabit these shallow waters.
Nesting turtles, horseshoe crabs and shorebirds are just a few of the local wildlife that are attracted to these natural shorelines. Many of the Bay’s worms, clams, crabs and fish call these shallow waters home—and the watershed’s complex ecosystem depends on them.
At the National Aquarium, we’re restoring Chesapeake Bay shorelines to bring back more of these natural habitats. We’ve partnered with the Maryland Port Administration, Maryland Environmental Service, the Living Classrooms Foundation, and the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition to reconstruct Masonville Cove, a neglected section of shoreline along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in Baltimore City. Through this project, local students and volunteers join our Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) to plant thousands of native grasses along the coastline to create foraging ground for fish species like striped bass and white perch, as well as nesting habitat for shorebirds.
At Indian Head, we’re working to restore a riparian buffer along the Potomac River. We’ve teamed up with the Department of the Navy, Southern Maryland Resource and Conservation and Development Board, and the Charles Soil Conservation District to plant a variety of Chesapeake Bay wetland grasses, trees and shrubs along the water’s edge. These native plants will help stabilize the area, reduce the potential for erosion and protect existing land while providing habitat for many species.
Learn more about shoreline restoration and how you can join our conservation efforts!
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