Living Shoreline promotes fish habitat and erosion control

Barrier islands are very dynamic landscapes. As the tides, currents, and winds sweep around the island, it continuously changes the landscape. Where you first arrive to the dock at Little St. Simons Island, there has been a wooden bulkhead adjacent to the dock creating a vertical barrier between the creek system and the upland.

Imagine a section of healthy marsh joining the higher ground and the creek. That’s what we invision as we replace this bulkhead with a Living Shoreline.

Bulkheads will weaken and eventually fail over time, and we have been planning on replacing the current bulkhead (constructed in 1995) for several years. However, rather than building another bulkhead that inevitably will have to be replaced again sometime in the future, we are putting in a “Living Shoreline.”

This Living Shoreline will be a more natural slope from the upland into the marsh habitat, and as the name suggests, create excellent habitat for the many organisms that utilize the different zones between the low tide mark and the high tide mark. We will be planting native plants that thrive in the marsh zones whose root systems will help stabilize the sediments, and using recycled oyster shells as structure to recruit new living oysters to the site, which will create habitat for myriad of marine organisms including several species of fish. To learn more about the benefits and implementation of a Living Shoreline, visit NOAA’s resource pages or learn about a similar project on Sapelo Island.

Tom Bliss with UGA’s MAREX and Jan Mackinnon with DNR’s Coastal Resources Division remove their nets after a fish sampling session.

Along with stabilizing the shoreline in a more natural and efficient way, one of the goals of this project is to enhance fish habitat. In order to get some baseline data on what is already hanging out around our dock, with the help of the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension (MAREX) team, we have been sampling the fish populations around the dock for the past year.

Next comes the construction! Scheduled to start in the middle of February, we will begin removing the old bulkhead, and creating the living shoreline. With the guidance of cicil engineer Tom Havens and landscape architect Thomas Angell who specializes in ecologically-sensitive environmental design, we will transform our current bulkhead garden into a seamless junction with the marsh.

In the meantime, as you park your car at the Hampton Marina, you might notice a mountain of oyster shells. As these are put into mesh bags (8,000 mesh bags to be exact!), they will be the foundation for which oyster spat (free-swimming larval oysters) will attach. Overtime, they will grow into a living oyster reef, one of those living oyster reefs that are vital to the functioning of the marsh ecosystem.

Of course, Little St. Simons Island cannot take on such a big project on our own. Our primary partners include: UGA Marine Extension, The Nature ConservancySapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Resources Divsion, NOAAWe are also working with volunteers from these organizations to help implement the project: Coastal WildScapes, Americorps.

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