In June, scientists with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) began installing a living shoreline at the DuPont Nature Center. The project consists of coconut core logs, which collect sediment brought in by changing tides, at the edge of the marsh. As the sediment collects in and behind the logs, the scientists install natural marsh grass weaved with ribbed mollusks to jump start a natural process that could help preserve a quickly-eroding environment.

Looking out from the deck at the DuPont Nature Center near Milford, visitors can see an expanse of mud that illustrates the damage being done by coastal storms and high-energy tides.

Every day, nearly one acre of tidal wetlands in our region is lost to erosion, according to Jen Adkins, executive director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE).

“These wetlands are absolutely critical for producing fish, cleaning water and protecting coastal communities,” Adkins said Tuesday. “Losing an acre a day of those wetlands is a big problem and will be a big problem for our region.”

Scientists are now hoping that oyster castles – constructs of limestone and shells – and a living shoreline project will help restore the marshland near the nature center and protect acres of marshy habitat that are vital to the ecology of the area.

“The main goal of this project is to try to keep these wetland areas from eroding so quickly,” Adkins said.

In June, scientists with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) began installing coconut core logs, which collect sediment brought in by changing tides, at the edge of the marsh. As the sediment collects in and behind the logs, the scientists install natural marsh grass weaved with ribbed mollusks to jump start a natural process that could help preserve a quickly-eroding environment.

“One of the more traditional responses to this kind of erosion is to put in things like bulk heads or hard structures, but when you do that, you cut off the interaction between land and water,” Adkins said. “The living shoreline’s all-natural approach is an effort to mimic what would be there naturally … and it’s not damaging to the ecology like a bulk head, rip-rap or a harder structure.”

The living shoreline project at the DuPont Nature Center is one of four efforts undertaken by PDE this year, with the other three located in Lewes, the Indian River Marina and Money Island, N.J. Each project is tailored to its site, and while scientists with PDE said they are seeing success with what they’ve done so far, the living shoreline projects are an experiment in themselves.

Adkins said PDE scientists began working on living shorelines about six years ago on the New Jersey side of the bay. All of the living shoreline projects continue to be a process of scientific trial and error, she said.

But PDE Science Director Danielle Kreeger said she has seen some positive outcomes.

Despite hurricanes and major coastal storms tearing across the bay after those New Jersey-based living shorelines were installed, Kreeger said she’s witnessed the natural restoration projects hold fast while concrete bulk heads crumpled under the storms.

“We’ve seen how this can work nicely,” she said as she wiped mud off her face and clothes after working on the Mispillion project Tuesday. “For us, success would be some enhancement of water quality and ecology … and just the fact that it survives.”

It’s only been about five weeks since the living shoreline work began at the DuPont Nature Center, but so far the project is holding up, she said.

The effort just outside of Milford is unique because it is one of the first sites in Delaware to combine the living shoreline concept with an oyster reef, which will provide a first-line of defense against waves and high-energy tides, bolster local oyster populations and provide a natural filtration system for the local waterways. Oysters can filter about 50 gallons of water per day, and paired with the ribbed mussels intertwined among the marsh grasses, the mollusks are expected to enhance water quality over the years, Kreeger said.

“All of these living shoreline projects are done for different reasons,” she said. “We think here at the mouth of the Mispillion, because it’s a high-energy area, we need both.”

In addition to providing scientists with a new source of data for what might work for fighting erosion and enhancing water quality, the Mispillion project also provides a clearly visible demonstration site for the public.

Dawn Webb, DuPont Nature Center manager, said the living shoreline project is a fantastic opportunity to educate the public.

“It actually gives us a tool for an outdoor classroom,” she said. “People retain more what they can actually see or touch within this nature center. The fish that live out there – mummy chugs, silversides, blue crabs, hogchokers – we have those in aquariums at the center so we can teach about them up close, and then look out and see the habitat that is required for the survival of these animals.”

 

MORE ABOUT MISPILLION’S LIVING SHORELINE

WHAT A living shoreline is a strengthened or enhanced shoreline

WHERE DuPont Nature Center, 2992 Lighthouse Road, Milford

HOW Scientists install coconut core logs, which trap sediment, and then add marsh grasses with ribbed mollusks that will naturally restore receding tidal salt marshes. Oyster castles are also installed at the edge of the marsh, which will create an oyster reef as baby oysters attach and grow naturally.

COST $195,000

FUNDING The Welfare Foundation and a water quality improvement grant the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund

AREA COVERED 456 feet

AREA PROTECTED About three acres

LENGTH OF COCONUT LOGS 228 feet

GRASSES PLANTED More than 400

NO. OF OYSTER CASTLES 500

MORE INFO Visit delawareestuary.org/living-shorelines

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