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Coastal Scholars Showcase 2021: Learning by Doing Conservation Biology: Assessing the Ecological Impacts of a Living Shoreline


Poster Details

Presenter: Dr. Tate Holbrook

Title: Associate Professor of Biology

Department: Natural Sciences



Conservation biology is a mission-driven, integrative science that aims to document, protect, and restore biodiversity. Students in my Conservation Biology course practice conservation through service-learning; they apply knowledge and skills to help community partners develop, implement, and assess conservation projects in coastal Georgia. Our longest-running collaboration with the St. Simons Land Trust and Georgia Department of Natural Resources involves monitoring a living shoreline at Cannon’s Point Preserve (CPP). Living shorelines (LSLs) use plants or other natural elements (e.g., oyster reefs) to stabilize estuarine coasts and protect uplands from erosion. They represent an alternative to hard shoreline stabilization methods (e.g., rock revetments, bulkheads), with added ecological benefits such as maintaining connectivity at the land-water interface, enhancing salt marsh habitat, and providing ecosystem services. This approach is relatively new on the Georgia coast, where scientific monitoring is needed to assess the impacts of early LSLs and to guide future design and management. Since 2014, one year prior to the installation of an LSL on Lawrence Creek at CPP, students have conducted annual surveys of intertidal benthic invertebrates and plants. Despite a series of hurricanes and tropical storms, the LSL has supported increasing populations of the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), native species that stabilize the creek bank, filter water, and provide nursery, refuge, and foraging sites for fish and crustaceans. This course-based undergraduate research project has fostered experiential learning by approximately 100 students while also contributing to conservation biology and natural resource management and serving the broader community.