Living Shoreline Restoration Project

Coir logs, part of the Living Shoreline Project at Felix Neck
Coir logs are part of the Living Shoreline Project at Felix Neck

A salt marsh restoration project is using all-natural materials to protect and restore the shoreline at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Threatened by rapid erosion and poor water quality in Sengekontacket Pond, the sanctuary is hosting a ‘soft approach’ to shoreline armoring that will create more natural habitat rather than transforming it to a hardened structure such as a seawall. 

Imperiled Habitat

Salt marsh habitat at Felix Neck has been in serious trouble in recent years. Threatened by storm surge and impaired water quality, the marsh edge has eroded almost 10 feet in certain areas. Large stretches of the shoreline along the beach trails only have thin lines of fringe marsh still remaining. In addition to losing a beautiful landscape, an eroding marsh means losing critical habitat for wildlife, including feeding ground for birds, and nurseries for juvenile fish and shellfish.

Felix Neck has teamed up with Oak Bluffs and Edgartown shellfish constables, researchers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the University of Rhode Island to take a unique approach to erosion control. 

Creating a Living Shoreline

Two boys with nets at the marsh
Two boys with nets explore the salt marsh

Approaching the 2016 summer season, the crew installed the first part of a nature-based shoreline stabilization structure. Called a living shoreline, the structure is made out of materials that mimic the surrounding natural habitat. In the case of the Felix Neck marsh, this means coir logs made of coconut fibers and bags of local oyster and quahog shell. All of the materials used are 100% biodegradable, and, as its name suggests, the living shoreline should assimilate into the surrounding habitat naturally over time.

The potential benefits of the living shoreline approach are numerous. The structure adds to the natural shoreline habitat while it spares the marsh edge from the power of incoming waves. The coir logs are arranged to trap and build-up sediments, allowing the salt marsh to grow back. New vegetation and shellfish habitat will help mitigate nitrogen in the pond, improving water quality.

The living shoreline also presents amazing opportunities for educational programming at Felix Neck. The sanctuary plans to integrate the restoration site into its school, camp, and summer programs. Everyone from local students to first-time island visitors will have the chance to learn about and get involved in a project that is generating new knowledge on a ‘soft approach’ to shoreline restoration.

Opportunities range from guided kayak tours past the restoration site, to participation in a University of Rhode Island social science research study about the project led by graduate student Lauren Josephs. The living shoreline is also highly visible to those boating or kayaking on Sengekontacket Pond, and from Beach Road across the pond. As the hosts of the project, Felix Neck will play an important role in facilitating education and conversation about this unique endeavor to protect the natural beauty of our shorelines.

To learn more about this project, send an email to [email protected] or contact Lauren Josephs at the University of Rhode Island (508-627-4850 ext. 105).