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Research: Nearshore Ecology

Nearshore habitats are highly vulnerable to change from anthropogenic and natural drivers in the system. In the Chesapeake Bay, sea level rise, shoreline hardening, land development, and nutrient enhancement are significant stressors.

What is the nearshore?

What do we research?

Topics of Research

shoreline construction
study questions for living shorelines

Ecological and Erosion Protection Functions of Chesapeake Bay Living Shorelines

coastal hazards

Sea Level Rise & Climate Change

eastern shore clam map

Shoreline Hardening & Land Development Effects on Nearshore Ecosystems

tidal wetlands

Nearshore Habitat Mapping

fish in hand

Fish Communities & Coastal Stressors

aquaculture facilities

Aquaculture (Clams & Oysters)



The nearshore environment is generally defined as the area encompassing the transition from subtidal marine habitats to associated upland systems (Figure 1). For our research in Chesapeake Bay, we define this area to include habitats from the marine riparian zone to the shallow subtidal waters (~2 m depth). Within this range strong interactions occur between the marine environment and upland habitats. For example, upland vegetation supports bank stability, shades the upper intertidal zone and adds terrestrial matter (e.g. woody debris for fish refuge) to the nearshore marine ecosystem.

habitat model

Figure 1. Nearshore environments include subaqueous lands, intertidal zones and riparian habitats. Nearshore ecosystem function can be affected by human activity in any of these zones.



We strive to understand nearshore ecosystem processes and patterns and the response of these coastal ecosystems to multiple stressors. This will enhance our ability to manage systems & preserve their critical ecosystem functions and services. To this end, our research explores the effects of shoreline hardening, land use development, climate change, and dredging on nearshore fish and benthic communities and their habitats. We use state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies to assess nearshore habitat condition, and our research supports the development of restoration/conservation strategies and decision-tools for nearshore ecosystems. Nearshore ecosystems serve as nursery and feeding grounds for many ecologically and economically valuable fish and invertebrate species and given their proximity to upland activities, these communities may be particularly sensitive to changes in land use and developmental pressures.

Significant Coastal Stressors in the Chesapeake Bay

  • Conversion of land to commercial or residential uses

  • Shoreline hardening and associated loss of intertidal habitat

  • Problems associated with land development, such as stormwater runoff, vegetation removal low dissolved oxygen and harmful algal blooms

  • Degradation of ecosystems from excess nutrients, sediments and

  • Dredging or filling of important habitat

  • Sea level rise and climate change

cross section
Cross-shore integration: Each portion of the shoreline, from the upland to riparian to wetland to aquatic zone, affects all other portions of the shoreline. Riparian trees slow overland runoff, reducing sediment imputs to the aquatic system. Seagrasses and marsh vegetation reduce wave energy, protecting the upland from erosion. Birds, such as osprey, may nest in riparian forests, but hunt in the aquatic environment. Crabs and juvenile fish move in and out of the marsh with each tidal cycle, using it for protection and foraging for food. Any action taken on one portion of the shoreline will have impacts that resonate throughout the entire cross-shore area. Symbols courtesy of the Integration and Application Network (www.ian.umces.edu/symbols/). University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.