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Enhancing Coastal Resilience on Virginia's Eastern Shore


A National Fish and Wildlife Foundation / Department of the Interior Project

Virginia’s Eastern Shore lies within one of the nation’s most threatened coastal regions. Sea levels are rising at three to four times the global average and storms are predicted to intensify. Both threats are linked, in part, to climate change. 
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent in the past on piecemeal and reactive approaches to addressing the mounting challenges of climate-related hazards on the Eastern Shore. Often these efforts have exacerbated the area’s vulnerability. 

The Eastern Shore is not alone in its plight, yet it is poised to be a leader for communities facing similar challenges.
​​​​A Comprehensive Initiative​

In 2008 The Nature Conservancy launched a comprehensive, stakeholder-based initiative that characterized the current understanding of potential climate change impacts on the Eastern Shore and identified strategies to enhance resilience and facilitate adaptation of natural and human communities.  
Our work on the Eastern Shore has reached a major milestone in the evolution of the adaptation projects we began six years ago. 

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage this work and catalyze action by providing local land use managers, planners, and landowners with decision-making knowledge and tools that can be used to mitigate hazards and reduce risks where nature is part of the solution.
 The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) has awarded the Conservancy and its partners $1.46 million from its Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Fund administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) over the next two years to expand the Conservancy’s state-of-the-art Coastal Resilience planning tool to the Eastern Shore,  and to restore oyster reefs to demonstrate nature-based solutions for risk reduction.

The full cost of the project is $2,285,000.  Of this, $1.46 million was awarded to The Nature Conservancy and partners from NFWF/DOI as described above; $525,000 was awarded to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge directly from DOI; and another $300,000 has been privately fundraised by The Nature Conservancy as a match for the project.
This Coastal Resilience tool will incorporate the latest science and the best analytical tools for assessing risks of coastal hazards on people, the economy, and the ecosystem of the Eastern Shore and help to identify nature-based solutions to mitigate risk and enhance resilience. The science and support tools that emerge from this effort will transfer broadly to other coastal systems, transforming the Eastern Shore into a model of resilience for coastal communities around the globe. 

Economic Engine and Natural ​Riches

NASA Wallops.jpg
Though rural in character, the Eastern Shore is an increasingly important economic engine for the Mid-Atlantic. The region is home to the nation’s largest clam aquaculture industry and to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, with over $1 billion of mission-critical infrastructure. 2.2 million tourists visit the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore annually, generating millions in tourism dollars and creating thousands of jobs for local residents.
The Eastern Shore’s natural riches are unparalled on the U.S. Atlantic.  Along its seaside runs the world’s longest expanse of naturally functioning barrier island ecosystem.  It is home to more than 5,000 acres of restored seagrass beds, and more than 2,000 acres of oyster reef sanctuaries and 50 acres of restored oyster reefs. 
This critical habitat for both migratory birds and marine life has been the site of intensive scientific research over the last three decades.  Its fundamental value for understanding coastal systems is why the National Science Foundation established a prestigious Long-Term Ecological Research site on the Eastern Shore in 1987, operated by the University of Virginia, and a major partner on this project.

Nature is Part of the Solution

The goal of this project is to provide tangible, science-based tools to equip coastal communities with the knowledge and means to strategically plan for the future while demonstrating the value of nature-based solutions in reducing risks of climate-induced hazards.
Informed decisions will enhance both ecological and socio-economic resilience in the face of sea level rise and storm surge.
•    Develop Nature-Based Solutions
The Conservancy and its partners will restore a total of five oyster reefs, which will be used to demonstrate and quantify how natural infrastructure can dampen wave energy and mitigate coastal erosion. Once built, these oyster reefs will continue to accrete vertically, thereby increasing their capacity for storm protection capacity, water quality benefits, and habitat functionality over time. 
Three oyster reefs will be restored by the Conservancy using $500,000 in Sandy funds awarded to the USFWS at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge by the Department of the Interior in an internal agency grant.

Two reefs were restored at Man and Boy Marsh using funding from the $1.46 million awarded directly to the Conservancy and our partners by the Department of the Interior. Work was completed on these reefs in October, 2015.


View a photo gallery of Conservancy staff and volunteers restoring oyster reefs

at Man and Boy Marsh.  Photo © Bowdoin Lusk/ TNC

•    Build a State-of-the-Art Coastal Resilience Planning Tool
The Nature Conservancy and its partners will expand the Conservancy’s powerful Coastal Resilience planning tool to the Eastern Shore using local data and information. This online decision-support tool will incorporate the best available science so that communities can visualize the risks imposed by sea-level rise and storm surge on the people, economy, and coastal habitats of the Eastern Shore and identifying nature-based solutions for reducing risks and enhancing resilience.
​Knowing the risks and understanding potential nature-based solutions will empower communities to adapt and thrive for the long term.  The “apps” that will be developed for the Eastern Shore community include the following:
Community Planning: The Community Planning a​pp is the location where resilient communities host their locally specific data to inform their decisions and track their successes. Users can view local information alongside with other Coastal Resilience data layers which helps support community-level engagement processes.
Flood and Sea-Level Rise: Flooding is increasing along the coast and certain rivers. Use this app to view areas affected today and in the future due to increased sea level rise, surge from storms and hurricanes, and inland flooding.
Future Habitat: Tidal salt marshes and barrier islands have the ability to move landward as sea level rises. This depends on several factors including the rate of land accretion, the rate sea level is rising, and whether or not there are physical obstacles preventing migration of these habitats. The Future Habitat app categorizes various advancement scenarios from spatial model outputs.
Coastal Defense: Coastal Defense examines how coastal habitats such as oyster reefs, tidal marshes, and seagrass help protect coastal areas by reducing wave energy hitting the shore.

Project Timeline

The NFWF-funded grant project spans two years.  The project officially began in August 2014 and will conclude by August 2016.  The first workshop, entitled Enhancing Coasting Resilience on Virginia's Eastern Shore: Community Leader Workshop, took place on November 12 and 13, 2014 at the Chincoteague Field Station near Wallops Island. 
The purpose of this workshop was to bring together community stakeholders and the project team to determine the sea-level rise and storm surge scenarios most useful for local planning and decision making.  This information is being used to inform the development of the models and apps to be included in the Coastal Resilience tool. 

A summary of the workshop, along with the agenda, list of participants, handouts, and presentations can be found on the Workshop #1 webpage.


In The News


The Conservancy will work closely with the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation Working Group, led by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission.   
The Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation Working Group is a grass-roots group led by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPCD), and is composed of representatives of more than two dozen local, state, and federal organizations that share the urgent need for understanding and interpreting the best available science to inform the difficult decisions that face them.
In addition, the Conservancy is partnering with scientists from the University of Virginia’s Long-Term Ecological Research project, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science's Center for Coastal Resource Management, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Randolph-Macon College, and other academic institutions to ensure the Coastal Resilience tool provides the kind of information most urgently needed by decision-makers and planners in the community.
Other key collaborators on the project include NASA-Wallops Flight Facility, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and well as independent climate-modeling experts such as ARCADIS US, Inc., and Warren-Pinnacle Consulting, Inc.​
The applications in the Coastal Resilience tool will greatly inform hazard mitigation plans, storm water management plans, federal National Environ​mental Policy Act environmental reviews, and the comprehensive planning process for towns and localities.

Feb2016_NFWF Partners Logos Collage - correct NASA.jpg

Project Team


In addition to the $1.46 million awarded to The Nature Conservancy by NFWF/ Department of Interior Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Fund, this project is made possible through generous matching contributions from the Volgenau Foundation and the Joshua P. and Elizabeth D. Darden Foundation.