Volunteers plant marsh grass for a living shoreline at Trinity Center.
The salt marshes that fringe our coastal waters are some of the most productive and valuable natural habitats in the world. And North Carolina’s got them — more than 3,000 square miles of them.
They offer many benefits, including the following:
- Provide food and shelter for many creatures.
- Serve as critical nurseries for many important marine species.
- Filter pollutants from stormwater runoff, the most significant water quality pollutant in North Carolina.
- Protect the land from wave energy, storm surges and tides.
- Provide aesthetic value, enhanced views, a sense of place and privacy.
However, these valuable habitats face many pressures from daily tides, waves, boat wakes, and sea level rise. The way natural marshes respond to these stressors is to migrate; the waterfront side erodes and the marsh builds up on the landward side.
People who build close to our marshes are also affected by erosion. However, instead of moving back, many respond by building wooden or concrete walls or placing piles of rock to protect their property.
Locked in place in front of the wall or rocks, the marsh can’t retreat and will eventually disappear, taking its benefits with it. As many as 20 miles of the state’s estuarine shoreline are walled or rocked each year.
Living shorelines offer an effective, natural way to address estuarine shoreline erosion.