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Living Shorelines - Learn more about Living Shorelines & Ecological Services

Living shorelines provide valuable ecological services.These services include water quality improvement, aquatic habitat, tidal water exchange, sediment movement, plant community transitions, and improved groundwater flow. Some treatments preserve wetlands by allowing their gradual landward retreat as sea levels rise. Living shoreline treatments maintain natural processes and connections between riparian, intertidal and aquatic areas.

Virginia has nearly 5,000 miles of shoreline, marshes, beaches, and tidal mudflats which provide habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. These marshes and wetlands are threatened due to relative sea level rise caused by climate change, coastal subsidence (or sinking) and manmade impacts. In Virginia, an average of 16 to 18 miles of new shoreline structures were permitted each year from 2000 to 2007. Armoring the shorelines with bulkheads or seawalls threatens landscapes, public access, recreational opportunities, natural habitats, water quality, and contributes to erosion of adjacent shorelines. These factors could reduce the number of fish, crabs, and birds that depend on coastal habitats.

wetlands kiosk

Flood and Erosion Protection - Tidal wetlands reduce the rate of surface water flow and temporarily store flood waters like a sponge. Wetlands receive stormwater runoff and release it gradually. They change sharp runoff peaks and discharge water flows over longer periods of time thus reduce the danger of flooding and also recharging groundwater supplies.

wetlands water quality

Water Quality - Just like nature's kidneys, tidal wetlands filter and trap sediments and pollutants, increase dissolved oxygen levels and reduce nutrient levels. As water flow is slowed over the marsh, sediments and chemicals drop out of the water column, high rates of productivity lead to high rates of mineral uptake, and decomposition processes take place in wetland sediments.

wetlands kiosk

Shoreline Erosion Control - The dense stems, roots and rhizomes of tidal wetland plants buffer the adjacent shoreline by reducing wave energy and reducing current velocity thereby trapping sediments.

snails on grass

Aquatic Productivity - A complex food web is supported through the transformation of inorganic nutrients into organic matter that is useful to aquatic animals. Decaying plant matter (detritus) is colonized by microorganisms which are then consumed by larger aquatic animals such as marsh periwinkles. The wetlands ecosystem is the source of food for a variety of fish, shellfish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals.

Northern Diamondback Terrapin

Fish and Wildlife Habitat - Wetlands provide habitat for resident and migratory species of fish, invertebrates, reptiles, birds and mammals. Wetland habitats are important for a high percentage of endangered and threatened species. Roughly two-thirds of our commercially valuable fish and shellfish use tidal wetlands as spawning or nursery areas.

great blue heron

Aesthetics - People enjoy wetlands for their beauty, ecological diversity, and solitude. Wetlands are a vast treasure of information about our cultural heritage since many Native American villages were based in these locations. Wetlands are beautiful locations for fishing, hunting, painting, photography, bird watching, hiking canoeing, crabbing and wildlife study.

To learn more about wetland plants and general wetland function, go to:

The VIMS Teaching Marsh website

For more learning resources, go to:

Living Shorelines Resources & Contacts