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Building Resilience Through Community on Deal Island

Jan 20, 2023

As sea levels rise and the lands of the Chesapeake region sink, the residents of Deal Island are working with Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve to use natural infrastructure to defend their communities.
With a grant from the state’s Department of Natural Resources Resilience through Restoration program, valuable marsh habitat has been restored along a critical section of the island’s shoreline. This small strip of marsh is all that stands between the Deal Island community’s vital roads and infrastructure and wind driven waves of the open Chesapeake Bay.

“Post construction, the shoreline and vegetation look great and wildlife use of the habitat appears to be up,” says Becky Swerida, the reserve biologist, who works near the Deal Island Peninsula. A stable and healthy marsh habitat will not only provide protection from storm surge and wave driven erosion, but host a myriad of mammals, birds, bivalves, delicious (to critters) prey species and of course juvenile fish and crabs. For a traditional fishing community, these resources are extremely valuable.

An incredible network of partners ranging from local watermen and property owners to anthropologists, land managers and environmental scientists were brought together by the Maryland Reserve’s Coastal Training program to make this project a reality. Each sector of the Reserve, including Swerida from Research and Stewardship, engaged with representatives of as many diverse community groups as possible including faith organizations, cultural heritage groups, the volunteer fire department and Lyons club. . “It’s been such an interesting and exciting journey connecting with the new Deal Island Peninsula Partnership (DIPP),” she says. “Everyone here has a different but incredibly close relationship with the Bay.”

Through public meetings and workshops, Reserve staff and partners presented flooding maps, sea level rise projections, and erosion data to community members and asked for local knowledge in exchange. Together, they identified a marsh and ghost forest that was the only protection for a road that connects several economically vulnerable and marginalized communities to the rest of the island.

The Reserve team designed and built a living shoreline that mimicked and enhanced the eroding natural features that would usually protect the shoreline. “We learned a lot from our Reserve’s marshes that we were able to apply to this project,” says Swerida. “Our research and stewardship experience helped provide an important ecological context for the project.”

By continuing to study the shoreline in the coming years, the Reserve team will be able to see if the restoration is functioning as hoped, and adapt their management strategies accordingly.

“This grant provided a rare opportunity to collect data before and after installation in a systemic, scientific way,” says Swerida. In addition to monitoring the site, she also hopes to connect the project to the Maryland MyCoast app so local residents can help document local flooding and the condition of the restored shoreline.

This is one of eight shoreline restoration projects located all over the state that the Reserve team are currently monitoring using a consistent monitoring framework developed for this project. The Reserve team will use the data collected and lessons learned from this monitoring effort to help improve living shoreline designs in the future. The projects and results will be added to the Reserve System’s Stewardship sector Restoration Story Map and shared with the restoration community.

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ReservesChesapeake Bay, MarylandBuilding Resilience Through Community on Deal Island