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Virginia CZM Program: 2018 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA Coastal Zone Management Program logo



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Project Title:

Living Shoreline Sea Level Resiliency: Performance and Adaptive Management of Existing Sites

Project Description:

The goal of this project is to continue monitoring the effectiveness of nature based resilience projects such as those that use living shoreline management strategies. Living shoreline strategies can effectively control shoreline erosion while providing water quality benefits and maintaining natural habitat and coastal processes. These ecosystem-based management systems have been the preferred alternative for stabilizing tidal shorelines in the Commonwealth of Virginia since 2011. However, a recent analysis has shown that between 2011 and 2016 only 24% of the permits granted for shore protection were considered living shorelines (ASMFC, 2016). These types of systems may be relatively new to many landowners and some managers who may not be convinced about the long-term effectiveness of the systems for shore protection and their maintenance.

A second goal of the project is to determine the coastal habitat response of created wetlands and beaches at living shorelines in the face of sea-level rise. Using a detailed elevation survey of each site and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers climate change adaptation sea-level rise scenarios, we will model how the whole system may respond to these changes in water level through time. Typically, shore protection structures are built in front of eroding banks that input sediment to Chesapeake Bay and provide limited subtidal habitat. Systems that are constructed in front of eroding upland banks have a ”backstop” up which these created intertidal habitats may not be able to migrate as sea level rises. This affects their long-term performance. The collected data will be used to project impacts of sea level rise through time on the structures, the upland banks, and created marshes and beaches to determine adaptive management strategies for these sites.  These adaptive management strategies could be in the form of strategically adding rock and sand to the existing cross-section to address increased future water levels and to maintain the living shoreline benefits through time.  Determining how resilient these systems will be in the face of climate change requires understanding how these systems functioned in the past.

The Coastal Zone Management program, through NOAA grants, has funded several projects that have reviewed design considerations and monitored systems for effectiveness. These studies presented data regarding the construction and performance of three living shoreline projects that were built between 1999 and 2003 in Maryland (Hardaway et al., 2009) and were the basis for the “Living Shoreline Design Guidelines for Shore Protection in Virginia’s Estuarine Environments” and the contractor training classes (Hardaway et al., 2010). In addition, last year’s project expanded the monitoring protocols at living shoreline systems for determining effectiveness of shore protection and habitat creation and stability through time by using a detailed site assessment and survey at four long-term sill sites.  This second year, breakwater and beach shore protection systems will be studied.

In this second year, this project will determine site-specific shore protection and habitat effectiveness for higher energy, sandy shorelines with breakwater systems.  Both high and low bank systems will be surveyed to develop guidelines for managers, contractors, and homeowners to adapt existing and future living shoreline projects to sea level rise.  Five sites will be studied: the breakwaters at the VIMS campus; two locally-owned public beaches, one at Yorktown and the other in Stafford County; Bavon Beach in Mathews County, a dune monitoring site on which breakwaters were recently built; and a privately-owned, high bank site on the James River.  In addition, VIMS has access to survey data at three other locally-owned public beaches with breakwater systems that will be included in the analysis.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Scott Hardaway, 804.684.7277,

Project Status:

10/1/18 - 9/30/19; Project Open

Final Product:


Project Summary:


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 or

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

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