As coastal communities experience population growth, development has shifted away from oceanfront properties, which are limited, to estuarine properties. Sheltered estuaries are becoming a more popular building location since they offer water accessibility and provide protection from coastal storms. These estuarine areas are some of the most biologically productive and ecologically valuable habitats in the coastal region, providing many ecosystem services.
Estuarine shorelines experience erosion by both short-term processes like tides, storms, wind, and boat wakes, as well as long-term processes like sea level rise. As a consequence, sheltered coasts are subject to continual loss of land. North Carolina property owners are allowed to protect their shoreline from erosion, but are encouraged to minimize the impacts of erosion control structures. Various options exist to stabilize shorelines with a wide range of vertical and sloped structures. As sea level rises the number of landowners seeking stabilization of their shoreline will also increase. The hardening of a few properties has relatively little impact, but the large-scale and collective proliferation of structures along the shoreline will likely impact the ecosystem function of these areas.
In 2009 the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve and the NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research initiated a project entitled, Sustainable estuarine shoreline stabilization: Research, education, and public policy in North Carolina. This research will increase understanding of the environmental and economic tradeoffs of alternative estuarine erosion control measures.
This project is funded by a $715,000 grant awarded by the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET), as part of its Living Coasts Program. CICEET works with NOAA's National Estuarine Research Reserve System to develop tools for clean water and healthy coastal environments nationwide. The project began in December 2008 and will last through August 2011.
Click here if you'd like to learn more about the estuarine shoreline stabilization research project.