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11 ideas for restoring America’s estuaries

Jim Hawhee, APNEP Policy & Engagement Manager
November 13, 2014

Potomac River waterfront in National Harbor, Maryland

Potomac River waterfront in National Harbor, Maryland

Last week, Bill and I attended the 7th National Summit on Coastal and Estuarine Restoration jointly hosted by The Coastal Society and Restore America’s Estuaries in National Harbor, MD. We were among 1,200 attendees at the conference, which included impressive North Carolina and Virginia delegations representing many of our key partners in the Albemarle-Pamlico region.

The summit offered national perspective on the work we engage in locally. It also provided an opportunity to hear from our partners around the country in several key areas. Here’s a smattering of what we learned:

  1. New Insights. This year the Chesapeake Bay Program released its “New Insights” report which details lessons learned from more than 40 case studies designed to improve the Bay. Because the Bay’s degradation is matched by unprecedented efforts to reverse its decline, our estuarine neighbor to the north offers many lessons from which we can learn.

    Opening plenary session

    Opening plenary session

  2. Storytelling. Representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Program also presented an impressive communications panel. After showing the brief TED-Ed video “What makes a hero?” they offered great tips about applying the art of storytelling to our work. 
  3. Online atlases. The North Carolina Coastal Atlas has already developed into an impressive tool, but we can always learn from our national partners. Alaska’s ShoreZone atlas allows users to view aerial video along much of the state’s 50,000 mile shoreline in addition to showing an impressive number of ecological attributes.

    One of several posters describing advances with the N.C. Coastal Atlas

    One of several posters describing applications of the N.C. Coastal Atlas

  4. Coastal Guidebook. The N.C. Coastal Federation debuted its Watershed Restoration Planning Guidebook for a national audience. The approach? Improve coastal water quality by restoring natural hydrology and reducing the volume of polluted runoff into our waterways.
  5. Don’t Chuck the Shuck. Virginia is developing a new volunteer-based oyster recycling program with the hook: “Don’t Chuck the Shuck.” Richmond’s chefs have contributed mightily to the program, including via twitter with the following insight:Learning that every time I eat an oyster I'm saving the environment! Passive delicious activism at work.
  6. Road Trip! Two Michigan graduate students embarked on a tour of America last summer to investigate and report on climate adaptation approaches. While they offered some great media advice, I was also struck by their story on ocean acidification and its impacts to Washington’s oyster aquaculture operations. Because oysters enhance fisheries, protect shorelines and improve water quality in our sounds, the long term impacts of acidification are worth exploring here as well.
  7. Size does matter. Want that living shoreline project to succeed? Consider investing in 2-year-old Spartina alterniflora plants, which have better restoration outcomes in Maryland than one-year-old plants. On a related note, we also enjoyed hearing about several “Grasses in Classes” programs in Florida, where teachers engage their students in the rearing and planting of Spartina.
  8. Nutrient separation and recapture. Swine and poultry waste typically have a nitrogen: phosphorus ratio of 2 or 3 to 1. Once land applied, crops uptake the nutrients at a ratio of around 1:1, resulting in a potential buildup of phosphorus or excess phosphorus runoff over time. One solution to improving soil health is being tested and brought to scale in Maryland. The technology separates nitrogen and phosphorus waste components into different streams, creating a marketable phosphate fertilizer that can be used proportionately where it is most needed.
  9. Woodchip bioreactor. On Virginia’s eastern shore an unusual partnership is testing a woodchip bioreactor for treatment of agricultural runoff. The woodchips host anaerobic bacteria that break down nitrogen compounds, leading to a cleaner Chesapeake Bay. See how they’re doing it here:

  10. Nutrient credits for aquaculture. Oyster aquaculture can sequester nutrients and generate another revenue stream through the sale of nutrient credits. The FARM modelcan help aquaculturists estimate the nutrient benefits of their operation.
  11. Living shoreline report open for comment. Restore America’s Estuaries recently released a draft report entitled Living Shorelines: From Barriers to Opportunities. Living shoreline techniques prevent erosion while enhancing fisheries habitat and coastal resiliency, and their widespread adoption is a key priority for APNEP. Public comments are being accepted on the draft until December 5.

 

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