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Area's living shorelines prove their worth - February 28, 2013

Over the past decade the Maryland Coastal Bays Program has worked with multiple partners, from both the public and private sectors, to help create living shorelines in our area. During this time, there have been many questions from opponents to our plans regarding certain aspects of the shoreline renovation; whether it costs too much money to build, whether it is more difficult to maintain than a traditional hardened shoreline, or how well it can handle a major disturbance event.

While these questions were given due consideration, the MCBP continued to work on the living shoreline projects and after Hurricane Sandy it is evident that the work done by the MCBP and its partners paid off major dividends. Not only did the living shorelines survive, they thrived.

A living shoreline is a shoreline stabilization technique that uses local natural habitat elements to prevent shoreline erosion, provide habitat for wildlife and help improve water quality.

Two of the best examples of successful integration of living shorelines in our coastal bays area are Macky’s Bayside Bar and Grill and Sunset Island, both located on the bayside in Ocean City. Both of these locales wanted to stabilize their shorelines to prevent erosion while still maintaining the natural aesthetics and wildlife habitat that is so crucial to our coastal bays.

After Hurricane Sandy, the MCBP wanted to check up on these vital shoreline areas to make sure that they were healthy and functional and even we were surprised at how well they held up compared to other hardened shoreline areas.

Our first stop was Sunset Island, a large apartment and condo development area located on its own private island off of 67th Street. The island has a hardened shoreline on the south shore but has living shoreline on the western and northern shores that are adjacent to the bay. Sunset Island was hit hard by Sandy; waves, rain and high winds battered the shorelines and residential buildings.

When the storm passed, it became clear that the hardened shoreline had breached and bay water had flooded the areas directly behind it while the living shoreline had worked exactly as planned and helped hold water to reduce the flooding.

“It’s the first time we saw it really work. If it’s goal is to protect us from further damage then we saw it really helped protect us from the storm,” said Melissa Esham, onsite manager from Sunset Island.

“It was amazing how well the grasses worked and helped with high water levels. The manmade shoreline got breached while the living shoreline did not. We’re working on embellishing it so that it can work again. The living shoreline is much easier to embrace now than before because the developers spent a lot of money. The question was whether or not we needed it and the answer is yes! We are trying to embrace what works.”

After seeing the success of the Sunset Island’s living shoreline, we made our way to Macky’s Bayside Bar and Grill on 54th Street to see how their shoreline had fared.

Macky’s is similar to Sunset Island in that they both have sections of shoreline that are either hardened or living. The hardened shoreline at Macky’s is on the southern side, adjacent to a canal that allows boat traffic to dock, while the living shoreline includes the marshes and beach that allows customers an unparalleled view and easy access to the Isle of Wight bay.

The storm had done some serious damage to the hardened shoreline; ripping out boards and depositing loads of sand and debris while the living shoreline looked like it was hardly damaged at all by the hurricane.

“As far as the shoreline is concerned it fared well, it held up pretty well. I’m sure it saved us big time. When I got there after the water came through we had some damage to some of the equipment but the shoreline seemed to make it through OK,” said Macky Stansell, owner of Macky’s Bayside Bar and Grill when describing the living shoreline project after Hurricane Sandy.

According to predictions from many of the world’s best climate scientists, we are expecting to see larger and more intense storms than ever before because of climate change.

If this is true, then Ocean City and the coastal bays watershed must change our way of development so that we can be prepared for these super storms and protect our local wildlife and the natural beauty that attracts thousands of visitors every year. By using living shorelines instead of hardened, manmade shorelines we can improve our resilience to storms and shoreline erosion while at the same time maintaining the aspects of the coastal bays that we love and rely on.

Harrison Jackson is the coastal stewards coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

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