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Virginia Coastal Program: 2007 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:



Hull Springs Farm Foundation

Project Title:

Monitoring Living Shorelines at Hull Springs Farm

Project Description as Proposed:

According to researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), there is an urgent need for valid scientific research on the impacts that living shoreline techniques have on the diversity and abundance of shoreline communities. Having installed an award-winning sill & fringe marsh following Living Shorelines techniques, Hull Springs Farm is now committed to monitoring the impact of this erosion-control structure on the shoreline & benthos plants & animals. The hypothesis being tested is that the created marsh & sill habitat will have equal or greater productivity than existing conditions, i.e. the living shoreline project will have a “net positive aquatic resource benefit”.

Using monitoring protocols & methods developed in concert with VIMS Marine Scientists, Longwood proposes to monitor for 6 years a wide range of organisms, including benthic-dwelling worms, fish, crabs, & snails, to measure the responses of these populations to the new fringe marsh & sill. Methods include throw traps, plug sampling of the fringe marsh, & seining around the sill. Monitoring will include water quality parameters (DO, salinity, conductivity, temperature, pH & Secchi depth). The primary investigator will be Dr. Mark Fink, Associate Professor of Biology at Longwood University. Data are also being collected on two terrestrial factors – percent cover in meter-square plots, & stem counts of vegetation on the new fringe marsh. Another research question addresses the build up of organic material in the fringe marsh over time. Sediment samples were taken before the fringe marsh was installed, & will be compared with samples taken over the next 6 years. The sill has 2 experimental elements – a window & a weir to facilitate animals’ movement during tidal changes. The success of these elements will be researched.

This grant will allow Longwood to analyze hundreds of water samples (collected June 2009), conduct cold-weather monitoring in December 2009, & purchase much-needed coring units and other monitoring supplies. Given that benthic systems play a critical role, it is important that the impacts of shoreline structures are better understood. Increasingly, shoreline management is taking an integrated approach, incorporating subtidal habitat, shoreline conditions, & land use. This research will assist those making policy decisions throughout Virginia’s coastal zone.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Mark L. Fink, 434-395-2749;

Project Status:

Project Completed

Final Product Received:

Monitoring Living Shorelines at Hull Springs Farm - Final Report  (pdf)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

BackgroundThis project assessed the biological productivity of the sill and fringe marsh installation at Hull Springs Farm (HSF). The hypothesis being tested is that the created marsh and sill habitat will have equal or greater productivity than existing conditions, i.e., the living shoreline project will have a net positive aquatic resource benefit.
Product #1Throughout the fall of 2009, five Longwood University undergraduate students under the direction of Mark Fink, PhD, analyzed the samples collected in June of 2007 and 2009 at HSF.  In total, the analysis consisted of 120 throw-trap samples, 27 seine bucket samples, and 180 sediment core samples.  Diversity and abundances of nekton differed between years of the study (i.e., prior to and following living shoreline establishment).  Fifteen species of bony fishes and two species of invertebrates were detected in 2007 nekton samples compared to 14 species of bony fishes and 5 species of invertebrates detected in 2009 nekton samples.  Using a Shannon-Weiner diversity index, overall nekton biodiversity was greater in 2009 (1.523) than in 2007 (1.221).  Conversely, preliminary analysis of the benthic invertebrate community suggests lower biodiversity following the establishment of the sill and fringe marsh.  Compaction of the sand used to construct the marsh may slow colonization by invertebrates.  This basic inventory of the biological communities both before and after the installation of the sill and marsh will aid in assessment of the potential productivity value of the living shoreline; continuing community changes and an overall increase in biodiversity is predicted as the new fringe marsh matures.  Monitoring is scheduled to continue through 2015.
Product #2Under the direction of Dr. Mark Fink, five undergraduate students collected additional samples in December 2009 at HSF using the same protocols established for previous data collection.  This was the first collection of data during cold weather.  Winter samples are currently being processed in the lab.
Distributing results: Preliminary findings have been shared with several Longwood University boards and future presentations are scheduled at the Center for Coastal Resources Management at Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Tidal Wetlands Workshop for members of citizen Wetlands Boards. Students presented a research poster (“Just another day at the sill:  Assessing effects of ‘living shoreline’ techniques on aquatic communities at Longwood’s Hull Springs Farm”) at the annual Cook-Cole College of Arts & Sciences Undergraduate Research Showcase held on November 20 on the Longwood University campus. Dr. Fink intends to pursue publishing an article about this research in a peer-reviewed journal. Until then, a summary of results will be put on the Hull Springs Farm web site:

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

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

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