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Virginia Seaside Heritage Program

Virginia Seaside Heritage SymbolSince 2002, the Virginia CZM Program has invested over $3 million to restore and protect a global treasure - the aquatic resources of the barrier islands, bays, and salt marshes along Virginia's Eastern Shore - through the Virginia Seaside Heritage Program Partnership.   Read about the successes of this multi-faceted and multi-partner effort...

Virginia Seaside Accomplishments Report - updated January 2014 (includes partner funding chart) (pdf)

"Seaside Successes" - Virginia Coastal Zone Management Magazine (Summer/Fall 2010) (pdf)

"Paddling the Seaside" - Virginia Coastal Zone Management Magazine (Spring/Summer 2006) (pdf)


Virginia CZM Program LogoThe Virginia CZM Program's work on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore began in the mid-1990's - including a grant to The Nature Conservancy to create an interagency Conservation Action Plan for Avian Communities in the Virginia Barrier Islands.  In 2002, the Seaside was selected by the Virginia CZM Program's Coastal Policy Team as the program's "focal area".  (A "focal area" receives significant funding and concentrated coastal resources management effort over a three year period.)  The Seaside was chosen because it held tremendous potential to demonstrate appropriate management of economic development and habitat restoration within a rare and fragile ecosystem.  Selection of this area also built on the momentum of previous restoration successes, like those witnessed in the Virginia Oyster Heritage Program (VOHP), the Coastal Program's first focal area, funded from 1999 - 2001.  As a result of successes and momentum made by VSHP partners during the first three years of the initiative, the Virginia Coastal Policy Team decided to continue funding the VSHP for three more years (through September 2008.)  Additional funding from the Virginia CZM Program has enabled continued oyster, scallop and eelgrass restoration work by the program's partners at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and The Nature Conservancy.  

During the VSHP, partners began developing the tools necessary to support long-term restoration and management strategies for the Seaside.  This work continueed through Special Area Management Planning.  Spatial data inventory and collection - digitally mapping seaside resources -was a central goal of the VSHP and will help the program's partners fine-tune their efforts in the years to come.

Brief History of the Seaside

Array of birds on seaside - photo by Dot Field, DCRThe seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore is a global treasure. This vast system of barrier islands, bays, and salt marshes has been designated by the United Nations as a Man and the Biosphere Reserve.

The intertidal and shallow subtidal areas, undeveloped beaches and marshes have supported an incredible array of waterfowl and shorebirds.

These habitats have also served as breeding, nursery and foraging sites for finfish and shellfish, which are of tremendous economic value to commercial and recreational fishermen.

Today the seaside may look like a coastal wilderness. But it hasn't always been that way.

British colonists found its welcoming shores. Blackbeard and his pirates landed here.

By the 1800's, this barrier island lagoon system was a mecca for hunting, fishing, and recreating for people from Washington, D.C. to New York. Finfish and shellfish harvests provided income to thousands of Virginians. Unimaginable numbers of oysters, scallops, finfish, waterfowl and shorebirds were devoured from its seemingly limitless cornucopia.

But all that changed.

Harvests of all types of seafood and birds declined dramatically beginning in the late 1800's due to over-harvesting, disease, storms and loss of habitat. Powerful and destructive hurricanes and storms hit Virginia's seaside in the 1880's, 90's and early 1900's.

Eventually, the cottages, hunt clubs, resorts and small communities were gone. The numbers of birds have also declined steadily due to hunting, predation and habitat loss. As is so simply stated on the gravestone of Hog Island resident, Maggie Simpson (1844-1914), "How many hopes lie buried here." (from Seashore Chronicles by Barry Truitt and Brooks Miles Barnes.)Gravestone on Eastern Shore - photo courtesy Barry Truitt, TNC

Things have been fairly quiet on the seaside since the Great Depression.

But sadly, we have not seen a great resurgence of underwater grasses, oysters, scallops, finfish and birds. Resource managers, scientists and the shore's residents have wondered "why?" Why in the face of valiant conservation efforts over the last few decades have the resources not rebounded?

Maggie Simpson's hopes may not lie buried much longer.

For more information about the Virginia Seaside Heritage Program contact:

Laura McKay
Coastal Program Manager

NOAA Logo 

For comments or questions concerning this program's web pages, contact Virginia Witmer.

This website is provided by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program through a federal Coastal Zone Management Act grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.

VSHP Boundary Map

Seaside data is available through the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program's Coastal Geospatial and Educational Mapping System - Coastal GEMS.

Click on the map below to view a larger image.

Seaside Heritage Program Boundary Map

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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