The rising sun bathes a coastal wetland in Maryland in soft pink light. Small islands of marsh grass dot the open water.
COASTAL MARYLAND Coastal wetlands play a crucial role as a first line of defense from storm surges. © Kent Mason

Stories in Maryland/DC

Strengthening Maryland's Coasts

Using science to ensure that Maryland’s coastal habitats and communities are resilient in the face of sea-level rise.

Sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay have risen about a foot in the last century—an alarming rate at more than twice the global average. By 2050, models project that we could see an average of two feet of sea-level rise. With more than 7,000 miles of Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay shoreline, our communities across the state are already dealing with flooding, marsh loss, and saltwater damage to agricultural fields.

We are on the front lines of climate change. Nature can help.

The Nature Conservancy takes a two-pronged approach to tackling climate change: mitigation and adaptation. We mitigate the acceleration of climate change by working to reduce carbon emissions with renewable energy projects. And we adapt to climate change by using science to understand and adjust to the changes that we know are coming.

White-capped waves strike against the edge of a coastal wetland, slowly eroding the vegetation. In the background a man guides a small blue floating platform, part of a NOAA funded research project.
Rising Seas, Stronger Waves The NOAA funded Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise (EESLR) study aims to better understand how coastal habitats can mitigate flooding in coastal communities. © Jay Fleming Photography

Studying the Ecological Effects of Sea-Level Rise

Along Maryland’s Chesapeake and Atlantic coasts, tidal wetlands act as the first line of defense against storms and rising seas. To better quantify how these natural coastal features reduce the impacts of storm surge, TNC partnered with George Mason University (GMU) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on a wave attenuation study in 2018.

After collecting data for one year from sensors installed on a Deal Island marsh, we found a striking data point: the first few feet of tidal marsh reduced wave height by up to 90 percent.

A woman crouches in the shallow water at the edge of a wetland. She holds a joystick pad in her hands, using it to deploy a small rectangular drone through the murky brown water.
Collecting Data Resilient Coasts Program Director Jackie Specht deploys an underwater drone at a study site at Franklin Point State Park. © Jay Fleming Photography

The success of our Deal Island wave attenuation study has now led to a three-year grant from NOAA’s Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise (EESLR) Program to study and quantify the benefits of coastal habitats across the Chesapeake and Atlantic coasts.

Through this grant, we are continuing to work alongside GMU) and Maryland DNR to better understand how marshes can mitigate flooding in coastal communities. Results from this new phase of research will help direct protection, restoration and management of the Chesapeake Bay region’s coastal habitats to enhance community resilience. The team of TNC and GMU researchers spent several days in the water during summer 2021 collecting data from our three study sites.

A woman postitions a cell phone on a photo platform.
Citizen Science Resilient Coasts Program Director Jackie Specht positions her phone at a photo signpost at Robinson Neck Preserve, part of a long-term photo monitoring project. © Michael Roswell

Robinson Neck Preserve

Community Science Project

The ecologically diverse marshes, waters and pine forests found at Frank M. Ewing/Robinson Neck Preserve are home to otters, waterfowl, spawning fish and deer. Sea-level rise is unfortunately degrading this beautiful landscape, but visitors can help us track these changes. By taking photos at the preserve and sharing them to Picture Post, commu...

The ecologically diverse marshes, waters and pine forests found at Frank M. Ewing/Robinson Neck Preserve are home to otters, waterfowl, spawning fish and deer. Sea-level rise is unfortunately degrading this beautiful landscape, but visitors can help us track these changes. By taking photos at the preserve and sharing them to Picture Post, community scientists—like you—are helping us document the long-term changes of this region, which will better inform our management efforts.

Expand to see more Collapse to see less
Waves lap against a ragged coastline of explosed marsh.
Coastal Invasive Phragmites, a non-native, invasive plant, grows in wetlands and along roadsides and shorelines, transforming native marsh habitats throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. © Jay Fleming Photography

Improving Coastal Wetland Management

Grant Funded Restoration

Coastal habitat restoration has traditionally addressed single sources of degradation, such as sea-level rise, erosion, invasive species, etc. However, sites are usually impacted by a myriad of human-caused stressors. To better catalogue all potential sources of marsh degradation, TNC is partnering with experts to develop an innovative marsh ma...

Coastal habitat restoration has traditionally addressed single sources of degradation, such as sea-level rise, erosion, invasive species, etc. However, sites are usually impacted by a myriad of human-caused stressors. To better catalogue all potential sources of marsh degradation, TNC is partnering with experts to develop an innovative marsh management decision framework model, thanks to a one-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). With current and projected rates of habitat loss, the Chesapeake Bay can no longer afford to continue business as usual. TNC and our partners will create an innovative decision framework that will help inform holistic tidal marsh management and restoration.

Expand to see more Collapse to see less
The sun rises over Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Sunset over Blackwater River Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge contains one-third of Maryland's tidal wetlands, which provide storm protection to lower Dorchester County. © Ray Paterra / USFWS

Protecting Marsh Migration Zones

REPI Challenge

In late 2020, The Atlantic Test Ranges and Naval Air Station Patuxent River were awarded a $3 million grant from the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program to protect land on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The funds will be used to purchase easements on 4,000 acres of land, establishing a resilient ...

In late 2020, The Atlantic Test Ranges and Naval Air Station Patuxent River were awarded a $3 million grant from the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program to protect land on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The funds will be used to purchase easements on 4,000 acres of land, establishing a resilient and connected marsh migration corridor and preventing incompatible development within the Navy’s fly zone. The U.S. Navy will partner with TNC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others on the protection effort.

Since the award was announced, TNC has completed a land prioritization mapping exercise to identify the parcels that will provide the highest return on investment for people and nature. With TNC staff working on the ground with landowners, the Maryland REPI partnership is ready to begin the ambitious work of protecting 4,000 acres of critical coastal habitat.

Expand to see more Collapse to see less

Contact

Jackie Specht
Resilient Coasts Program Director
email: jackie.specht@tnc.org

Resources

  • Helping our coastal communities plan for and adapt to rising seas.

    Resilient Coasts Program Factsheet

    Helping our coastal communities plan for and adapt to rising seas.

    DOWNLOAD
  • Overview of the statewide coastal resiliency assessment completed in 2016 to inform coastal conservation and restoration decisions.

    Maryland Coastal Resiliency Assessment Factsheet

    The statewide assessment results include a Natural Features Analysis, Community Flood Risk Analysis, Marsh Protection Potential Index, and the identification of Priority Shoreline Areas for conservation or restoration actions.

    DOWNLOAD