Monitoring a Living Shoreline at Cannon's Point Preserve
Authors: Joshua Billings, Bridgette Hancock, Brianna Marquez, and José Paiz Mazariegos
Faculty Supervisor: C. Tate Holbrook, Ph.D.
Community Partner: St Simons Land Trust
A living shoreline is an eco-friendly infrastructure approach to stabilizing shores and protecting land adjacent to estuarine waters from erosion. Living shorelines provide a natural alternative to “hard” methods of erosion control, such as bulkheads, that disrupt the ecological function of the shoreline. In Georgia, a combination of bioengineering (e.g., bagged oyster shell) and native vegetation plantings have been used to stabilize tidal creek banks, provide wildlife habitat, and maintain salt marsh-upland connectivity. As part of a service-learning project, our Conservation Biology class monitored the living shoreline on Lawrence Creek at Cannon’s Point Preserve (CPP), a nature reserve operated by the St. Simons Land Trust on St. Simons Island, GA. The living shoreline at CPP was constructed in 2015, and students have collected data each year from 2014 to 2019. Our objective was to assess the ecological impacts of the living shoreline, particularly on the structure of benthic invertebrate and plant communities. We measured density and diversity of species along eight transects that extended perpendicular to the creek through the intertidal and supratidal zones, focusing on populations of the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), which provide shoreline stabilization and other important ecological services. The multiyear results show an increase in species diversity and population densities of key species following construction of the living shoreline. We conclude that the living shoreline has successfully stabilized the bank of Lawrence Creek and enhanced the fringing salt marsh habitat.