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The Virginia Coast Reserve : An Introduction



The Eastern Shore of Virginia is home to one of The Nature Conservancy’s signature and iconic marine conservation programs: the Virginia Coast Reserve
Over the past 40 years, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and other long-term partners have invested over $100-million to protect and restore 133,000 acres of coastal and mainland habitats, including 14 barrier islands owned by the Conservancy. 

This extraordinary natural infrastructure helps to buffer Eastern Shore communities from storms, as well as thousands of acres of pristine salt marshes, vast tidal mudflats, shallow bays, and productive forest uplands.  
Together with our partners, we have restored 50 acres of oyster reef, designated 2,000 acres of oyster reef sanctuaries, established the largest seagrass restoration project in the world - more than 5,000 acres of eelgrass meadows, and growing -  protected over 133,000 acres of barrier islands, marshes, and upland forest, and helped to reintroduce bay scallops to the coastal bays, a species that disappeared from the system 80 years ago due to habitat loss.

Using Nature ​to Reduce Climate and Disaster Risks

The Eastern Shore is a global hotspot for sea-level rise with rates three to four times above the global average.  The region’s vulnerability was highlighted by the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The response to such events is often to pursue highly engineered solutions like sea walls and groins that are both costly and damaging to natural habitats. Sandy has provided a teachable moment.  Along the Mid-Atlantic coast, the Conservancy is working with partners to promote and institutionalize natural defenses - oyster reefs, salt marshes, dunes, barrier islands, floodplains, wetlands, and riparian forests. 
Compared to the cost and maintenance of engineered or structural flood protection, nature’s infrastructure can provide a cost-effective first line of defense against storms. This smart portfolio of solutions helps protect people and nature from the damaging impacts of storms and coastal flooding associated with global climate change.  Building upon decades of experience in addressing local problems with tangible solutions, The Nature Conservancy is demonstrating how nature can be incorporated into development, adaptation, and hazard management decisions in vulnerable coastal environments.

Resilience and Risk Reduction Strategies

The Nature Conservancy’s goal for the Eastern Shore of Virginia is to catalyze broad adoption of nature-based adaptation approaches by federal, state, and local resource managers and private land owners.These approaches will enhance coastal resilience and, in turn, reduce risks of flooding and other coastal hazards to local communities, property, and infrastructure.
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.   Based on this, our four priority coastal resilience strategies are:
1.    Demonstrate Value of Natural Systems:  Working with partners to demonstrate how healthy and restored coastal ecosystems can contribute to cost-effective solutions, reducing risk of climate change related natural hazards, and increasing resilience of coastal communities.

2.    Protect Future Shorelines: Working with existing federal, state, and private land protection consortiums to acquire, protect, and restore critical areas for mainland marsh migration and future natural shorelines.

3.    Build Political Will:  Working with the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation Working Group to sponsor public outreach programs to engage Eastern Shore communities, educate about the risks of  sea-level rise and storm surge, and empower stakeholders to identify nature-based solutions to mitigate risks and enhance socio-economic and ecological resilience.

4.    Provide Best Available Science and Models for Hazard Mitigation:  Working with academic and agency partners to integrate modeled scenarios of sea-level rise inundation, coastal flooding, storm surge, and marsh migration, barrier island and inlet evolution by building an Eastern Shore version of the Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience mapping tool to support local planning and decision making regarding hazard mitigation. 


•    The Nature Conservancy convened and organized community stakeholders in first ever climate adaptation strategies workshop on Eastern Shore in August 2010.

•    As a result of this workshop, the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation Working Group was founded with representatives from more than two dozen agencies, local government and organizations dedicated to using education and outreach to build political will for better planning to mitigate risks from future sea levels rise and storm surge.

•    Working with partners, we acquired high resolution elevation data (aka LiDAR data) for the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 2011, filling a critical information gap for county planners and resource managers grappling with an uncertain future in the face of rising seas, increased coastal flooding, and storm surges.

•    We received a major grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society Climate Adaptation Fund in 2011 to demonstrate living shoreline techniques, including oyster reef and wetland restoration, to local resource managers and land owners.  One of the outcomes of this project that we restored a 1,000-ft marsh-sill living shoreline project at Occohannock on the Bay Camp and Retreat Center through a partnership with the Eastern Shore Resource Conservation and Development Council. 

•    The Conservancy was recently awarded a total of $1.46 million from the U.S. Department of Interior Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resilience Fund to develop and implement a state-of-the-art Coastal Resilience planning tool for the Eastern Shore and restore a total of five oyster reefs to demonstrate nature-based solutions for risk reduction.



Key Reports


Key Online Resources

1. Building Resilience on Virginia's Eastern Shore:  Project and resource page for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation / Department of the Interior grant funded program.

2. Coastal Resilience: A suite of tools for coastal communities, government agencies, and other stakeholders that informs hazard mitigation, risk reduction, climate adaptation and conservation decisions.

3. Living Shoreline Project: Camp Occohannock Living Shoreline Project:  A novel approach to combating shoreline erosion is taking shape on the Eastern Shore.

4. VCR Restoration: Eastern Shore Riding Restoration Wave:  A restoration wave shows that healthy habitats are most resilient in the face of climate change

5. UVA LTER Site: Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research Program

6. NOAA CSC SLR Impacts Viewer: NOAA Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer

7. VIMS Northampton: VIMS Center for Coastal Resources Management Northampton County CCRMP Map Viewer

8. Coastal GEMS: Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program GEMS (Online Mapper)