Sea Briefs is a report on the results of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.
Editor: Valerie Winn
Front page kayaking photo: Leah Bray
This newsletter is available in PDF
MASGC supports applied, interdisciplinary marine science research, education and outreach efforts to foster the sustainable development and management of the Mississippi and Alabama coasts and nearshore ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico
Dr. Chris Boyd, an assistant extension professor for Mississippi State University, has worked with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium since December 2006. His primary responsibilities are developing coastal resource protection programs and creating extension programs related to estuarine and wetland environmental issues. He accomplishes this by working with state, federal, non-profit agencies and researchers to display and discuss the outcome of coastal research projects and how these findings are relevant to the protection and preservation of our coastal environments. He is involved in planning and conducting wetland and coastal restoration research projects, creating best management practices for shoreline erosion, developing and coordinating the Mississippi Master Naturalist Program and developing a marine natural resource education program. Boyd holds a doctorate from the Auburn University Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures, a master’s degree in crop soil and environmental science from Clemson University and a bachelor’s in agronomy and soil science from Auburn. He is based at the MSU Coastal Research and Extension Center (CREC) in Biloxi, Miss.1. What is the value of erosion control measures in predicted sea level rise?
With increasing sea level, existing and new erosion will continue to occur in coastal habitats. Some of the marsh or shoreline will become inundated, but in some areas accretion could occur and the storm buffering capacity of a vegetated shoreline will be greatly needed to protect our coastal structures and habitats. By building new structures based on predicted sea level rise models and protecting the land on the soil water interface by some method of natural erosion such as a combination of breakwaters with vegetative plantings, the damage will be minimized.
2. What are your duties as they relate to living shorelines?
My main goal is to educate the public about why we need to protect our coastal resources. By promoting living shorelines for shoreline erosion protection, the property owner will not only protect his or her land, but will preserve the ecological functions of the shoreline. I am continuing to learn about the different types of shoreline erosion structures available, current and past research and permitting requirements. This information is presented to the public, researchers and natural resource planners at workshops, Web sites and publications. The greatest challenge is identifying all of the local, state and federal programs and policies along with working with all stakeholders to assure a coordinated and focused effort. With increased population growth occurring in the Gulf of Mexico region we must educate citizens, developers and city planners about the need to protect our remaining resources
3. Why is what you’re doing important and what are the long-range effects?
The trend over the last 50 years has been to construct seawalls and bulkheads to protect eroding land in our bays and estuaries. For example, in Mobile Bay alone, it is estimated that more than 30 percent of the bay has constructed seawalls, bulkheads or the shoreline has been hardened using stone riprap. A study conducted by Dr. Scott Douglass predicted that within the next five to 10 years up to 50 percent of the shoreline in Mobile Bay could be hardened. The coastal shorelines aquatic and terrestrial habitats perform many environmental services, such as buffering storm surges, providing organic matter needed to maintain our wetlands, maintaining coastal processes, preserving public access to our water bodies and most importantly, providing essential habitat needed by our aquatic organisms. If we continue to lose more of our essential shoreline habitat, the biological diversity will continue to decline along with decreased protection against storm surges.
4. What kind of response have you received from those who will be implementing shoreline protection alternatives?
The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium hosted a Living Shorelines workshop last November in Spanish Fort, Ala., and had more than 100 participants that included private citizens, marine contractors, citizen action groups, regulators, researchers, private business owners and other state and governmental agencies. Many of the homeowners expressed interest in learning more about how to construct soft erosion control structures to protect their property from shoreline erosion.
5. What kinds of shoreline structures are you seeing?
Currently, not many of the ground alternative shoreline erosion structures are constructed specifically by homeowners. But there are quite a few projects that have been constructed or are in the planning stages in Mississippi and Alabama by researchers and state and federal agencies. These agencies want to help promote this type of shoreline erosion structure, but more research needs to be done on costs, site specific effectiveness and maintenance. There should be a lot more upcoming information to help promote living shorelines for homeowners and marine contractors.
Carl Ferraro, a natural resource planner for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), State Lands Division, Coastal Section, has worked within the Alabama Coastal Area Management Program since 1997. Before that he worked for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Air Division in Montgomery and was later transferred to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Coastal Section in Mobile, where he worked primarily on beach and dune construction permitting, inlet management under the Coastal Zone Management Program and other similar issues. In 2004, he transferred to the ADCNR-SL D Coastal Section where he has overseen the Section 306A Public Access Grant Program as well as the Coastal Resource Improvement Grant Programs, which have funded numerous habitat restoration studies. As the Alabama Gulf and Ecological Management Site (GEMS) program manager under the National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration, Gulf of Mexico Foundation Gulf Ecological Management Sites Community-based Restoration Partnership grant program, he has led habitat management and restoration efforts in Alabama. He is also the State of Alabama Lead to the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Regional Restoration Coordination Team. He was recently chosen as the manager of the ADCNR Emergency Disaster Relief Program (EDRP) Finfish and Shellfish Restoration Project, an $8 million restoration grant from NOAA Fisheries for post-Katrina fisheries habitat recovery. Ferraro holds an associate’s degree from Marion Military Institute and a bachelor’s degree in wildlife sciences from Auburn University.6. What new upcoming projects do you have planned?
At the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, we have begun working with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to construct a living shorelines demonstration project along the northern shoreline of Helen Wood Park, which has been experiencing severe erosion north of the Dog River Bridge along Mobile Bay. The DISL and TNC approached us, looking for a site to implement a living shorelines demonstration project. This site fits that role. The public can see living shorelines techniques at work and DISL and TNC will gather data on the effectiveness and cost of small scale living shorelines techniques. The State Lands Division received a large grant from NOAA Fisheries to conduct post-Hurricane Katrina finfish and shellfish nursery habitat restoration. A large-scale marsh restoration project is being planned along the shoreline of Mississippi Sound west of Bayou la Batre, involving the creation/restoration of acreage of salt marsh, the placement of a permeable breakwater and the placement of oyster cultch. We are partnering with the DISL to construct five or six small- to medium-scale living shorelines restoration projects.
7. What role has Sea Grant played in your work?
The Alabama Coastal Area Management Program has had living shoreline related policies in place for years. Implementing these policies, whether through regulatory programs or education and outreach, has been difficult. The living shorelines workshop sponsored by Sea Grant raised awareness of this issue with property owners to consultants to marine contractors. There now seems to be a genuine interest in coastal Alabama in determining alternatives to bulkheads, recreating natural shorelines and related issues.
8. What are your thoughts on homeowners installing shoreline erosion control structures? Are there problems involved?
There is a need for some waterfront property owners to install an erosion control structure. Most homeowners opt to install a bulkhead. While this may seem to be the best course of action, homeowners do not realize the consequences of installing bulkheads. One typical result is the loss of beach area seaward of their bulkhead as a result of reflected wave energies and interruptions of sediment transport. They install the bulkhead this year and the next year they will be wondering how to “replace” their swimming beach. If we demonstrate cost-effective alternatives to bulkheads, maybe
these homeowners could abate erosion on their property and keep their beach. The animals would have their habitats as well.
9. What is the implementation process required for homeowners who want to build structures in order to remedy shoreline erosion?
There are a number of regulatory requirements that must be met by homeowners such as obtaining permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State Lands Division—for those projects taking place below mean high tide—ADEM and local building departments. Each of these programs have their own forms and processes, and it is best if homeowners contact each one to determine specific requirements and time frames for obtaining permits.
10. How critical are the impacts of shoreline structures in maintaining and sustaining our natural resources?
While the need for shoreline structures or erosion control techniques is clearly recognized, many do not understand the impacts of these structures. Once a shoreline is hardened utilizing a seawall or bulkhead, the long-shore transport of sediment is interrupted, eventually leading to the loss of beaches and wetland seaward of the structure and the ecosystem services provided by these habitats. The interruption of the sediment transport system and the re-directing of wave energies by these structures may cause erosion on adjacent properties. To ensure the long-term viability of our bay and estuarine ecosystems, we need to find cost-effective alternatives to bulkheads. Through proper research, monitoring, engineering and education and outreach activities, such as those sponsored by Sea Grant and Coastal Management Program, can we achieve this objective.