Researchers at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are studying two living shoreline sites on the Georgia coast to determine their effectiveness at providing habitat for marine life and stabilizing the shoreline.
A living shoreline is a method used to prevent erosion through a combination of engineering and biology that utilizes oyster shell and native vegetation. In many settings, living shorelines represent an effective alternative to long-term shoreline stabilization by buffering wave energy, trapping sediments, providing habitat, and maintaining a connection between the estuary and upland.
In Georgia, the use of living shorelines is still relatively new. With funding from The Nature Conservancy, Tom Bliss, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Shellfish Research Lab, is monitoring sites at Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and Little St. Simons Island to determine if living shorelines are a viable alternative to traditional methods. Traditional shoreline protection uses seawalls and bulkheads that “harden” the shore and reduce habitat for marine life.
This particular project involves seasonal sampling of nekton, which are free-swimming marine organisms like fish, crabs, or shrimp, at the two living shorelines that were built using oyster shell, as well as at two natural reefs and mud flats. Sampling is conducted at each site to compare species diversity and abundance at the different habitat types. Researchers deploy lift nets at the sites and capture nekton at slack high tide. Nekton caught in the net are identified, counted, and measured so researchers can compare sites when it comes time to process the data.
Data are still being collected for this project, but results from a previous experiment using the same sampling method showed an increase in ecologically important species and the presence of popular recreational fish, like sheepshead, at the living shoreline site at Little St. Simons Island that were not observed prior to its installation.
Researchers at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant have been involved in the construction or monitoring at four of the six living shoreline sites in Georgia. In order to increase this number and promote the use of living shorelines for erosion control, more research on their design, effectiveness at stabilization the shoreline, and ability to enhance fish habitat is needed. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant will continue to pursue grants and partner with non-government organizations, state agencies, and other researchers to better understand the use of living shorelines for erosion control, habitat enhancement, and restoration.