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Virginia Coastal Program: 2008 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Project Title:

Estuarine Blue Infrastructure: Final Priority Conservation Areas for Chesapeake Bay and its Tidal Tributaries and Back Bay

Project Description as Proposed:

FY 2007 Task 93.04 will review estuarine blue infrastructure data layers and develop a draft assessment of priority estuarine conservation areas. This is considered the first step necessary to assess living resource distribution and ecosystem service potential in the estuarine portion of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay and Back Bay in the City of Virginia Beach.

This FY 2008 Task 11.03 proposal will finalize this assessment, and based on the output of the GIS activity will assign a value to indicate regions of potential richness, or estuarine blue infrastructure. These data will be provided to the Virginia CZM Program for addition to Coastal GEMS.
This project further proposes to begin developing linkages between conservation planning in the terrestrial and estuarine systems of the coastal landscape – green and blue infrastructure. This project element is motivated by several needs. The first is to extend the effort that identifies priority conservation zones on the upland into the estuary. Recognizing that land use decisions on the upland affect water quality and estuarine habitat health, we understand that conservation on the upland may be necessary in order to achieve sustainable estuarine and ocean ecosystems. To the extent that the areas identified are coincident with terrestrial conservation priorities, the opportunity to achieve broader success in the coastal landscape exists. To that end, this project proposes to review and utilize data developed under the FY 2008 Task 11.02 Priority Green Infrastructure project now underway by the Departments of Conservation & Recreation, Game & Inland Fisheries and VA Commonwealth University.

Specifically, this project will closely review the output of the FY 2008 Task 11.02. Under that grant the project team is updating the existing Vulnerability Model which assesses growth, and is developing a spatial dataset that addresses Priority Conservation Areas in the Coastal Zone of Virginia. Both datasets will be compared to the output of the priority conservation area assessment for estuarine living resources. GIS will be used to identify spatial connectivity between resource rich estuarine waters and upland identified to be a priority conservation area. We will also look closely at the Vulnerability model to identify development hotspots projected in the model and attempt to define estuarine waters where resources may be at significant risk due to the projected development potential. While the Vulnerability Model has a reported near current projection time scale (2010) we will assume that development pressure is likely to remain constant over the next 5 years (2015) in the designated areas.

Connectivity between priority estuarine conservation areas and priority land conservation areas will be indicative of highly valued waters. This assessment will be determined using GIS techniques. Since the results of the estuarine assessment may indicate waters of high value which are spatially independent of the designated priority land conservation areas, these waters will also be considered important resource areas and waters that should be afforded protection from upland degradation to preserve current estuarine living resources.

Also important for consideration when defining areas for long-term preservation and conservation would be projected impacts to both the upland and the estuarine environment under rising sea level conditions. This is particularly relevant in the topographically low-lying coastal plain that characterizes much of Virginia’s coastal zone. Given that, this study will also consider the output of a project now underway to assess potential for conversion of shallow water habitat under various rising sea level scenarios. This project is being conducted within the Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM) with funding from NOAA/Chesapeake Bay Program Office. The project should be complete in fall 2009. Using tidal datum and elevation models manipulated to reflect future sea level rise positions, the study will project future zones for tidal wetlands habitat, loss of SAV habitat, and the influence that current development presents with regard to the transgressive displacement of shallow water communities inland. The output will be reviewed in conjunction with the results found in the assessments discussed above. Adjustments based on these finding may be recommended for Priority Conservations Areas designated for both blue (estuarine) and green (land) infrastructure.

Ultimately the results of this project will challenge local governments to plan for long-term preservation of estuarine and ocean ecosystem services which are currently threatened by water front development, habitat conversion, and habitat loss due to climate change impacts. Activities proposed in this scope of work will provide information that reports where current best available data indicate high ecosystem service potential, where development pressure threatens ecosystem health, and where opportunity for conservation on the upland can have the greatest benefit to preserving estuarine living resources.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Marcia Berman - (804) 684-7188;

Project Status:

Project Completed; 10/1/2009 - 3/31/2010

Final Product Received:

Estuarine Blue Infrastructure: Final Priority Conservation Areas for Chesapeake Bay and its Tidal Tributaries and Back Bay – Version 2.0 - September 2010 -Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Center for Coastal Resources Management (PDF) 

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

This project is an extension of earlier efforts within the coastal zone of Virginia to build a platform for enhanced Blue and Green Infrastructure planning. This project is motivated by an interest in extending statewide conservation efforts into estuarine systems and recognition that land use decisions on the upland effect water quality and habitat health in the receiving waters.

The project in its entirety has been accomplished in distinct parts. Part one conducted a Cumulative Resource Assessment (CRA) to evaluate the distribution of aquatic natural resources within waters of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay waters, and Back Bay of Virginia Beach, Virginia. The second part of the project, developed under this grant, developed a process to prioritize the most ecologically valuable regions within Virginia tidal waters. Using the data output from the CRA, an Aquatic Priority Conservation Area (APCA) analysis was developed which ranks individual resources based on potential to provide important ecosystem services. A weighting function was applied and zones of good, very high, and exceptional habitat value were designated and mapped.

Next the project reviewed priority conservation areas (PCAs) designated on the upland and modeled spatial relationships between terrestrial PCAs and aquatic APCAs. The analysis only focused on the highest valued conservation areas within both datasets.

Finally the APCA output was assessed for areas vulnerable to sea level rise impacts. The results of the analysis, which focused only within the Chesapeake Bay portion of Virginia, indicated where APCAs were unlikely to be sustained as a result of long-term impacts of rising water levels. The analysis used climate change vulnerability data derived for wetlands and beach vulnerability models as the indicator and identified APCAs adjacent to or oincident with these locations.

All data were delivered as shape files for inclusion in VA Coastal Gems or other state and local initiatives.




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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