OBX Field Site students research benefits of living shorelines

By on December 11, 2017

By Brett Wells, Outer Banks Field Site Student

This fall, thirteen UNC-Chapel Hill students have called the Outer Banks home. As part of the Outer Banks Field Site hosted by the Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese, students receive a hands-on experience studying topics such as coastal ecology, environmental economics, and natural resource management.

The students’ interdisciplinary curriculum then culminates in a semester-long research project relevant to the local community. This year’s research project is focused on an emerging protection method for estuarine shorelines — living shorelines.

Living shorelines are an alternative to hardened shoreline protection structures, such as bulkheads and riprap revetments, that incorporate vegetation in their design and frequently include seaward structures such as rock sills or oyster reefs.

According to the NC Department of Environmental Quality, 7% of North Carolina’s estuarine shoreline is modified with either bulkheads or riprap revetments and is increasing with more interest in residential development along the estuarine shoreline.

The students are interested in living shorelines’ potential ability to store carbon in the soil, which is otherwise referred to as carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is an important ecological process in which vegetation uses carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it into biomass; as a result, the carbon is no longer acting as a greenhouse gas. In discussions on how to mitigate climate change, retaining wetlands’ ability to sequester carbon is an integral part of the solution.

The second portion of the research project is to understand the values and perceptions property owners and public organizations have towards various shoreline protection methods. The students conducted interviews which covered the factors that influenced the property owners’ decisions to install their shoreline protection measures.

The Field Site students traveled throughout northeastern North Carolina to sample living shoreline projects and speak with property owners. The sampling sites included the Wildlife Resources Commission boat launch in Edenton, Durant’s Point in Hatteras, Roanoke Island Festival Park, Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and private property in Frisco.

The locations vary in environmental conditions as well as the age of each living shoreline. The sites were suggested by the NC Coastal Federation who assisted all of the projects in the planning and/or installation stages.

In order to measure the amount of carbon stored in living shorelines, the students experimented with various lab techniques and field methods. Students extracted sediment cores from some of the sites and combusted segments of the core to determine the amount of carbon present.

Students also placed gas chambers at some sites to measure the amount of methane released from the living shoreline project. Methane, another form of carbon, is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so it is important to know if the carbon being stored in the soil is being offset by the methane released.

The students will present their findings at a community presentation at the Coastal Studies Institute (Room 262) on December 14 at 2 p.m.

The presentation of research, entitled “Estuarine Shoreline Stabilization: Public Perceptions and Greenhouse Gas Implications”, is open to the public and will last approximately 75 minutes, including time for questions.

The presentation will also be recorded and available on the Institute’s website, www.coastalstudiesinstitute.org.




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