NOAA and Smithsonian project to improve Chesapeake and Delaware bays' nearshore habitat management

October 31, 2009

NOAA has awarded the Smithsonian Institution's Environmental Research Center and several partner organizations $946,000 for the first year of an anticipated five-year, $5 million collaborative project to study the degradation of nearshore coastal habitats in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Research will be used by environmental managers and local officials to better protect and restore these estuaries over the long-term, as well as plan for sea level rise and other consequences of climate change.

Invasive species, contaminants, excessive nutrients and sediment are just some of the many factors threatening sensitive wetlands and seagrass beds. An additional issue has been community efforts to "harden" shorelines by lining shores with bulkhead, rock, or rubble to try to protect adjoining lands against erosion and sea level rise. These structures can threaten the health of living shorelines, such as wetlands and marshes. This project will look at the combined effects of these multiple stresses on nearshore habitats and their dependent species.

"These habitats, which are nursery and feeding grounds for so many species, have typically been managed in a piecemeal, parcel-by-parcel fashion and are slipping away in areas of heavy development," said Robert Magnien, Ph.D., and director of the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, which awarded the grant. "Developing scientific information that ties multiple species and their environment will be used to advance management approaches."

The Smithsonian Institution's Environmental Research Center will lead a team of investigators from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the University of Delaware, Pennsylvania State University, and the United States Geological Survey. Area coastal managers are also part of the research team and will provide input. Program managers from NOAA's National Ocean Service will provide oversight.

The research supports President Obama's Executive Order for Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, which specifically calls for strengthening scientific support for decision-making to protect and restore living resources and water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. It also relates to a major goal of the Mid-Atlantic Governor's Agreement and multi-state Chesapeake Bay Agreement to preserve, protect and restore habitats and natural areas that are vital to the survival and diversity of the living resources of the Bay.

Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office will utilize information resulting from this research. In a letter of support for the proposed research, Rich Batiuk of the EPA said that this program will "address critical issues related to habitat degradation, invasive species, and shoreline hardening. All of these ecosystem impacts are recognized in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, and therefore are critical concerns to Chesapeake Bay Program partnership."

"Developing the science for understanding the combined effects of shoreline hardening on water quality, underwater grasses, fish and shellfish will help support policy for accelerating Bay restoration," stated Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. "Maryland is firmly committed to making management decisions based on sound science. This project will provide the practical information for driving wetland restoration and managing development in Maryland's critical areas."

The mid-Atlantic region is only one area where shoreline hardening is seen as an important issue. The results of this research can potentially be extrapolated to hardened shorelines in other coastal states.
The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center leads the nation in research on linkages of land and water ecosystems in the coastal zone and provides society with knowledge to meet critical environmental challenges in the 21st century.

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