Living Shoreline Restoration Project

Coir logs are part of the Living Shoreline Project at Felix Neck
Coir logs help rebuild shoreline

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 wildlife habitat. That includes feeding and nesting grounds for birds as well as nurseries for juvenile fish and shellfish.

Project Overview

From 2015-2017, Felix Neck teamed up with the Shellfish Departments of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, researchers from the EPA's Atlantic Ecology Division, and the the Humphries Lab at the University of Rhode Island (URI) on a unique restoration effort called the Living Shoreline Project. The project investigated both the ecological and social aspects of coastal restoration.

The ecological part of the project centered on implementing a nature-based solution called a living shoreline to restore a section of salt marsh habitat at Felix Neck's Sengekontacket Pond. Instead of building a hardened structure such as a seawall, this "soft approach" to restoration uses all-natural materials to create new habitats that ultimately stabilize shoreline structure and control erosion. 

The social science component of the project was led by Lauren Josephs, a graduate student in the Humphries Lab at URI. The study focused on investigating the public response to this type of restoration and how personal interests and values influence, and define, restoration success. 

Three boys with dipnet exploring a marsh at Felix Neck

Implementation

During the spring and summer in 2016, the project crew installed two living shoreline areas at Sengekontacket Pond. The first area was in place by the end of June, while construction of the second part was completed by late August. 

A living shoreline is a nature-based shoreline stabilization structure that's made out of materials that mimic the surrounding natural habitat. In the case of Sengekontacket Pond's marsh, that means coir logs made of coconut fibers and bags of local oyster and quahog shells. 

By the end of summer 2016, the project had deployed close to 50 coir logs (12-feet long and 130lbs each) and around 600 shell-filled bags (3-feet long and 30lbs each) in the salt marsh. All of the materials used in living shorelines are100% biodegradable, and—as the name suggests—the new "shoreline" will assimilate into the surrounding habitat naturally over time. 

The potential benefits of this approach to restoration 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 presented amazing opportunities for educational programs at Felix Neck. The sanctuary integrated the restoration site into its school, camp, and summer programs. Everyone from local students to first-time island visitors had the chance to learn about, and get involved in, a project that was generating new knowledge on a "soft approach" to shoreline restoration.

As the hosts of the project, Felix Neck played an important role in facilitating education and conversation about this unique endeavor to protect the natural beauty of our shorelines. 

Project Results & Resources

  • Josephs LI, Humphries AT (2018) Identifying social factors that undermine support for nature-based coastal management. Journal of Environmental Management. [doi] [pdf]
  • Josephs LI, Humphries AT (2017) The role of stakeholder values and norms in selecting ecosystem services associated with living shorelines restoration. 8th National Summit on Coastal and Estuarine Restoration and 25th Biennial Meeting of The Coastal Society, New Orleans, LA, USA. [presentation]
  • The Use of Living Shorelines by Mary Schoell & Marnita Chintala (2016)

See It for Yourself! 

In summer, visitors to Felix Neck can take advantage of guided kayak tours that travel past the restoration site. The living shoreline is also highly visible to those boating or kayaking on Sengekontacket Pond, as well as from Beach Road across the pond.