State of the Beach/State Reports/VA/Beach Ecology

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Virginia Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access65
Water Quality77
Beach Erosion4-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures6 2
Beach Ecology4-
Surfing Areas58
Website7-

Introduction

To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.

Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.

In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include

  1. quality of habitat,
  2. status of ‘indicator’ species,
  3. maintenance of species richness, and
  4. management practices.


It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.


Policies

Policies and Regulation relating to Beach Ecology include:


The Code of Virginia § 28.2-1408. Standards for use of coastal primary sand dunes states:

"No permanent alteration of or construction upon any coastal primary sand dune shall take place which would (i) impair the natural functions of the dune, (ii) physically alter the contour of the dune, or (iii) destroy vegetation growing thereon unless the wetlands board or the Commission, whichever is applicable, determines that there will be no significant adverse ecological impact, or that the granting of a permit is clearly necessary and consistent with the public interest, considering all material factors."


Virginia's Coastal Management Program lists several goals related to beach ecology:

  • Goal 1: To protect and restore coastal resources, habitats, and species of the Commonwealth. These include, but are not limited to, wetlands, subaqueous lands and vegetation, beaches, sand dune systems, barrier islands, underwater or maritime cultural resources, riparian forested buffers, and endangered or threatened species.
  • Goal 2: To restore and maintain the quality of all coastal waters for human and ecosystem health through protection from adverse effects of excess nutrients, toxics, pathogens, and sedimentation.
  • Goal 4: To reduce or prevent losses of coastal habitat, life, and property caused by shoreline erosion, storms, and other coastal hazards in a manner that balances environmental and economic considerations.
  • Goal 6: To promote sustainable ecotourism and to increase and improve public access to coastal waters and shorefront lands compatible with resource protection goals.


Virginia’s 2010 Coastal Needs Assessment and FY2011-2015 Strategies evaluated the state’s coastal program and defined goals for the next five years. Strategies for 2011-2015 related to beach ecology include:

  • Development of a marine spatial plan for Seaside’s barrier island lagoon system, which would include designating areas for habitat protection.
  • Support for the development of Local Shoreline Management Plans and promote the implementation of living shorelines.


Final strategies pertaining to shoreline management in Virginia are outlined in an analytical report produced by the Virginia Coastal Program. The report is available online here.

In 2007, Virginia completed a proposal of recommendations to update the Coastal and Primary Sand Dune and Beach Act. The document recognizes ecology as a valuable component of the beach:

The social and ecological value of sandy shorelines to the Commonwealth has increased due to natural (erosion) and anthropogenic (structural) losses which have resulted in a reduced amount and distribution of sandy shores, in addition to the functions sandy shores play in shoreline ecological health and natural erosion control in the face of sea level rise. The historical development of sandy shore management is both direct and intertwined with other resource-centric regulatory programs, but still is incomplete. The recommendations within are presented as a part of the continuing evolution of sandy shore management, and tidal shoreline management in general.


The amount of grooming that takes place in Virginia Beach is regulated by budgetary constraints. There are 12 other large public beaches in Virginia (besides the Virginia Beach Resort Beach). Each beach participates in grooming of some kind, for trash/debris removal.

100% of the public beaches in Virginia Beach are groomed regularly.

In most cases, recreational vehicles are prohibited from public beaches. Cedar Island, a barrier island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia has restrictions on vehicle use during heavy migratory bird periods. Grandview beach in Hampton also has vehicle restrictions during shorebird nesting times.

Impacts of driving on the beach: Case studies from Assateague Island and Padre Island National Seashores was published in Ocean & Coastal Management in October 2012. The article's conclusions are:

  1. Driving on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore leads to a lower beach and dune elevation in areas where the accumulation of seaweed wrack contributes the development and seaward growth of the dunes. The beach wrack is removed directly by raking to allow for vehicle passage or through compaction and pulverization by vehicles.
  2. Driving on the beach at Assateague Island National Seashore following storms limits the ability of dune vegetation and ultimately the foredune to recover. Consistent with the results from Padre Island National Seashore, driving on the beach does not affect the volume of sediment within the beach-dune system, but it lowers the elevation of the dunes through a reduction in the elevation of the base elevation.
  3. The lower elevation of the beach and dune makes the driving section of both islands susceptible to scarping and overwash during storms, which in turn causes sediment to be transported landward of the dune through blowouts and washover. In other words, the lower crest elevations represent a long-term threat to island resiliency that requires greater consideration by management.


Sandbridge and Croatan in Virginia Beach are very aware of loggerhead turtle nesting areas. For five months of the year, a VA Beach staff person patrols the beaches daily at dawn looking for drag tracks. The nests are then fenced and these areas are not groomed. For more information contact Phil Roehrs.

The protection and preservation of beaches and dunes is the responsibility of the Habitat Management Division of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The Marine Resources Commission’s Habitat Management Division's guidelines Shoreline Development Best Management Practices state, “Every reasonable effort will be made to minimize destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation in proximity to the beach nourishment sites…”.

The state has not established any guidelines for use of Personal Water Craft in the coastal environment.

The Virginia Coastal Management Program has a new Plant Eastern Shore Natives program.

Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program

The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) was created by Congress in 2002 (P.L. 107-77) to provide funding for the acquisition and conservation of coastal and estuarine land with significant ecological values that can be effectively managed and protected. CELCP is administered by NOAA’s Office of Coastal Resource Management.

Virginia can submit a total of three applications to the nationally competitive funding process for a total award of up to $9 million. The Virginia CZM Program is responsible for reviewing and submitting the Commonwealth’s applications for CELCP funding, and distributing any awards received by the state.

To be eligible for this annual funding opportunity, the Virginia CZM Program, with the assistance of its conservation partners, developed a Virginia CELCP Plan. The plan outlines Virginia’s conservation priorities within the coastal zone. It also outlines how proposals received by the Virginia CZM Program will be evaluated and selected for submission to NOAA. The plan includes an updated Virginia CELCP Priorities Map (Coastal Virginia Ecological Value Assessment).

More information on Virginia's CELCP Plan and funded projects can be found here.

Inventory

Virginia does not have one program for beach ecology or a single beach ecologist. Rather, different facets of beach ecology are reviewed separately (birds, conservation lands, wetlands, offshore resources, nearshore resources, etc.).

Several thousand fish and wildlife species populate the Virginia coastal zone. The Commonwealth attempts to monitor some of these populations because they are important for commercial or recreational uses. Others are important as indicators of environmental conditions.

Rare, threatened, or endangered plants and animals are also inventoried in the coastal plain as natural heritage resources. This list includes 612 species of mammals, birds, fish, insects and plants. The risks to populations of rare, threatened or endangered species include: direct loss of individuals, for example sea turtle mortalities associated with commercial fishing operations; loss of suitable habitat, tiger beetle populations on beaches are an example of an at-risk group; and competition from non-native species, grass carp and blue catfish are examples of exceptional non-native competitors. Whether introduced intentionally or accidentally, the growing populations of some non-native plants and animals are a cause for concern. Some of these species are considered invasive, meaning they have the ability to adapt to varied environmental conditions and out-compete native species for limited resources.

Virginia's Coastal GEMS is:

  • A gateway to Virginia’s coastal resource data and maps; coastal laws and policies; facts on coastal resource values; and direct links to collaborating agencies responsible for current data.
  • A growing inventory of water and land based natural resources, conservation planning tools, and planning examples to assist in protecting Virginia’s coastal ecosystems.
  • A tool to promote community involvement and environmental education.

More information.

A brochure, Life on the Beach Isn't Always Easy, is now available to help educate barrier island visitors about the critical role island habitats play in the lifecycle of beach nesting birds.

It was announced in April 2007 that nearly 300 acres of beachfront, marsh and forest were being added to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. The $12 million preservation deal, brokered by The Nature Conservancy, expands the refuge by one-fourth, to 1,414 acres. The refuge opened in 1984 with just 180 acres.

Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has information on sea turtles and piping plovers.

A collection of reports, databases, and data layers prepared by consultants for the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative offers a birds-eye view of sandy beach and tidal inlet habitats within the U.S. Atlantic Coast breeding range of the endangered piping plover based on imagery from Google Earth, Google Maps, state agencies, municipalities, and private organizations. By comparing the location, status, and condition of potential plover breeding grounds from Maine to North Carolina during three distinct time periods -- before Hurricane Sandy, immediately after the storm, and three years after post-storm recovery efforts -- these inventories provide a habitat baseline that can help resource managers plan for future change.

Dunes

Virginia has coastal dune on about 48 miles of shoreline. An inventory now underway is part of an ongoing Virginia Coastal Program effort to establish a better understanding of dune systems, including primary, secondary, coastal and riverine dunes, in coastal Virginia. The inventory includes where they are located, how they should be defined, and how they function in the natural environment. The goal is improved management to ensure the benefits derived from these naturally occurring and rare systems are maintained.[1]

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) studies, Chesapeake Bay Dune Systems: Evolution & Status and Chesapeake Bay Dune Systems: Monitoring Years 1-4, located, classified, and enumerated the existing jurisdictional dunes and dune fields of the Chesapeake Bay both inside and outside of the localities identified in the Dune Act. (The localities listed in the Dune Act are the counties of Accomack, Lancaster, Mathews, Northampton, and Northumberland, and the cities of Hampton, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. Dunes within one of these localities are jurisdictional dunes.) The studies found 365 potential jurisdictional dune sites, of which 219 sites were determined to have primary sand dunes under the current definition. An additional 30 dune sites were counted in non-jurisdictional areas. The studies’ recommendations pertinent to Section 309 goals are that the state should: 1) amend the state definition of a dune to be more consistent with Virginia’s coastal geology, 2) expand the jurisdiction of the Dune Act to include other localities with coastal dune fields, 3) establish Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) around beaches and dunes to eliminate overlapping regulatory authority, and 4) emphasize dune and beach restoration/creation to protect from shoreline erosion. As a part of the monitoring study, VIMS also analyzed created dunes as a component of shoreline management and found that there was significant value to creating secondary dunes and dune fields as a part of coastal hazard protection. The Coastal Primary Sand Dunes and Beaches Act website of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has some nice plant profiles for dune vegetation.

Bayside dunes in Kiptopeke State Park and the Town of Cape Charles on Virginia's Eastern Shore are protected by dune crossovers - a series of boardwalks funded by the Virginia Coastal Program.

Other Coastal Ecosystems

Virginia is working to identify species present in the coastal zone that pose the greatest threats to native communities. For example, the common reed, Phragmites australis, and purple loosestrife both threaten native marsh plant communities. The aquatic grass Hydrilla can displace other more valuable submerged aquatic vegetation. The Rapa welk is a voracious consumer of valuable shellfish. The zebra mussel can clog pipes and filter out most of the available food in freshwater bodies. Nutria (a small mammal originally imported for fur) can destroy large areas of marsh through feeding and burrowing. Mute swans graze heavily on valuable submerged aquatic vegetation and compete for habitat space with the tundra swan.

Oysters

Oyster Reef

According to The State of Virginia’s Coast 2001 report, commercial oyster harvest in the state had decreased from 4 million bushels in the early 1900s to only 20,000 bushels by the end of the century. In response, the Virginia Coastal Program created the Virginia Oyster Heritage Program, which was given the task of recovering the oyster population. The report listed several beneficial roles that oysters play in the nearshore ecosystem: oysters improve water quality through their filter feeding, which removes suspended materials from the water column. Some researchers think re-establishing oysters in Chesapeake Bay could help to remove nitrogen pollution from the Bay's waters. The reefs improve habitat quality by providing three-dimensional structures that attract other shellfish, finfish, and crustaceans. Finally, the reefs provide a source of oyster spat that can settle on surrounding beds, potentially supporting a sustainable commercial oyster fishery. [2]

The Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program has invested significant coordinative effort and funding to help protect and restore native oyster populations. Between 2001 and 2003 Virginia CZM invested over $1.5 million in the Virginia Oyster Heritage Program, a public-private partnership initiated by the Program. This partnership constructed over 80 sanctuary reefs and 1000 acres of harvest area in Virginia's coastal waters. The CZM Program website has additional information on oysters and efforts to restore them. Also see an article in the Fall 2014 issue of Virginia Coastal Zone Management magazine (page 24).

The Virginia Seaside Heritage Program is a public-private partnership with the Virginia CZM Program. This partnership continued oyster restoration efforts after 2003, and reported the following results:

  • Oyster restoration in the Eastern Shore’s Seaside bays is conducted differently than in the Chesapeake Bay. Historically oysters in the Chesapeake Bay rivers grew in 8-10 foot high reefs. Seaside oysters tend to grow in lower profile beds.
  • From 1999 – 2002, the Virginia CZM Program invested $150,000 in seaside oyster restoration. Since 2003, approximately 4.9 acres of oyster reefs have been constructed on public oyster beds in Accomack County, and just under 5 acres of oyster reef have been constructed in Northampton County.
  • Local watermen/contractors have constructed the oyster reefs with either shucked shells, locally harvested fossil shells, or conchshells. Reefs generally require at least 25,000 bushels per acre, and they are constructed on degraded, intertidal reef footprints.
  • Spatsets are still relatively large and dependable on Seaside, so all reefs have been colonized and have significant oyster populations. Oyster diseases still significantly impact the larger oysters. All reefs are marked as “NO HARVEST” areas and with signage identifying the reefs as sanctuaries, but poaching continues to be an issue.
  • To help guide a continued comprehensive and effective restoration effort, the Virginia CZM Program funded the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) Eastern Shore Lab to estimate the current population and distribution of oysters on the Seaside. This 2-year project, conducted using aerial observations and GPS, was completed in December 2008 and a GIS database was developed with layers detailing the distribution, abundance, size-frequency and biomass of oysters throughout the Seaside. The results showed 3.2 billion oysters on the Seaside compared to an estimate of about 1.8 billion oysters in the entire Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay.[3]


The Lynnhaven River Oyster Restoration Team­, a partnership between the College of William and Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Virginia Beach, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and Lynnhaven River NOW,­ was selected to receive a 2009 Coastal America Partnership Award for innovative efforts to restore the river's native oyster population. Their studies suggest that the Lynnhaven held 10-20 million oysters before restoration. The oyster restoration team now estimates that between 60-90 million oysters inhabit the restored reefs. Many of these have grown to up to 6" long, evidence that they are healthy and may be developing resistance to the diseases that kill most Chesapeake Bay oysters while still young. In the coming years, the team plans to continue planting more spat-on-shell to increase oyster recruitment throughout the river. They also plan to construct about 40 more acres of reefs, with an ultimate goal of reaching a riverwide population of 200 million oysters.[4]

An article published in the New York Times in 2013 touted oyster shell recycling into coastal waters as a way to combat ocean acidification.

Blue Crabs

Blue Crab

A study released in January 2008 by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission showed the 2006 Virginia blue crab harvest was among the lowest recorded since 1945. It said the crab population was only about 30 percent of early 1990 estimates. Most troubling, the declines continued despite catch controls that were enacted beginning in 1994 in hopes of bringing the crab population back. "There is no evidence," the group of scientists and regulators concluded in their report "that the management plan has increased either the baywide [crab] abundance or harvest." The bay's crab population has plunged from a little more than 450 million individual crabs in 1990 to about 150 million in 2006, according to scientific estimates. On top of that, the review committee said crabs suffered overfishing in six out of nine years ending in 2006 and suggested that former cyclic patterns of abundance and decline no longer influence the crab population, possibly because of overfishing.

In September 2008 the federal government declared a "commercial fishery failure" for the Chesapeake Bay's blue crabs. Blue crab numbers have fallen by more than 70 percent since the 1990s and the value of the bay's crab harvest (hard- and soft-shelled crabs) has declined 41 percent since the late 1990s.

But in April 2009 Virginia and Maryland announced the blue crab population had soared to 418 million, a 49 percent increase from the previous year. The boost, if sustained, could help resuscitate the bay's commercial crab industry, which has been devastated the past two decades by pollution, overfishing and disease. The number of adult crabs in the bay during winter 2008-2009 reached 243 million, well beyond regulators' goal of 200 million. Juvenile crabs, meanwhile, remained stagnant at 175 million — a number that scientists said should grow because more female crabs will spawn in the coming year. Scientists credited the surge to controversial regulations — including canceling the winter dredging season in Virginia — implemented in 2008.

Wetlands

The Virginia coastal zone has at least 78 different kinds of natural communities. The habitat types identified include: upland forests dominated by pine or hardwood; forested wetlands; sandy shorelines with dune grasses; extensive tidal marshes; high eroding bluffs; small sinkhole ponds; and a variety of marine, tidal fresh and freshwater aquatic environments. The coastal zone contains all 310,813 acres of Virginia's tidal wetlands, and 909,097 acres (approximately 80%) of the state's nontidal wetlands. It has been estimated that over half of Virginia's wetlands have been lost since colonial times. Most of the historic nontidal losses are attributed to agriculture, while most of the historic tidal wetlands losses have been caused by commercial and residential development along the shoreline. Wetlands management programs have slowed the rate of losses considerably. Between 1996 and 2000, approximately 145 acres of tidal wetlands and 1138 acres of nontidal wetlands were impacted in the coastal zone. Nontidal wetland impacts are now generally a result of commercial and residential development. Tidal wetland impacts are often associated with construction of shoreline erosion protection structures. An estimated 90 miles of shoreline were hardened during the same time interval. Many shoreline projects also impact subaqueous lands. As with tidal wetlands, small incremental impacts on subaqueous lands can cumulatively alter the aquatic environment. Immediate impacts, which may be long term, result from large dredging and shoreline fill projects. Habitats can be protected by restricting development in and around a site, thereby preserving it for the future. There are an estimated 857 square miles (548,183 acres) of preserved lands in Virginia's coastal zone. This constitutes about 9.5% of our coastal land. This protected area includes land that is permanently protected from development with a perpetual easement or fee ownership, held by federal, state or local government or non-profit organizations. This area also includes military lands. While these lands are always available for future military needs, they are considered by Virginia as permanently preserved from development so long as they are so managed.

Virginia is committed to increasing the amount of wetlands in preservation status. The newly formed Governor's Wetland Restoration Coordinating Committee has begun to track wetlands restoration and preservation in the Commonwealth. State parks, natural area preserves, wildlife management areas and unclaimed tidal lands currently offer protection to 34,700 acres of wetlands. An additional 990 acres were scheduled to be preserved in 2001, and over 580 acres were in planning or construction for 2001. In general, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) has been steadily recovering from the dramatic declines of the early 1970s. Efforts to promote the reestablishment of SAV include seeding and transplanting, and intensified management of water quality. At present there are approximately 48,500 acres of SAV in Virginia. Officials hope to promote continued expansion of this resource, and have been encouraged by recent successes reintroducing SAV in the seaside bays behind Virginia's barrier islands.

Eel Grass

Unfortunately, the amount of underwater grasses fell 25 percent in 2006 to the lowest point since 1989. The sharpest decline off Virginia's shores occurred in eel grass beds, which shelter blue crabs, an economic mainstay whose harvest numbers are dwindling. The amount of underwater grasses in 2006 shrank to 59,090 acres, down from 78,263 acres the year before and well below the 89,620 figure set in 2002 that is a recent record.

A protracted dry spell, silt-laden runoff from heavy rains and rising water temperatures all played a part in making the bay less hospitable to grasses that scientists consider a barometer of the bay's overall health. Particularly troubling are lingering problems with eel grass, which failed to recover in 2006 from a massive die-off in 2005, blamed on record-high water temperatures. Most of the bay's eel grass grows in the salty Virginia portion of the estuary, where it is recognized as a crucial link in the blue crab life cycle. Baby blue crabs hide in the grasses and wait to move up the estuary until they become too big for most fish and other predators to eat.

Grass losses in the lower bay were the highest in 2006, marking a 33 percent decline. Middle bay numbers dropped 23 percent and upper bay acreage fell 20 percent. The only bright spot was the Susquehanna Flats at the head of the bay in Maryland, where more than 10,000 acres of freshwater underwater grasses have been flourishing in recent years.

On the other hand, seagrass (eelgrass) restoration has been much more successful within the Seaside Bays of the Eastern Shore. Between fall of 2002 and fall of 2008 Virginia CZM provided for the planting of about 200 acres of eelgrass seeds under the direction of Dr. Bob Orth of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). With the help of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and many volunteers, reproductive shoots of eelgrass were collected each spring, protected in tanks of circulating seawater over the summer, and then the seed was scattered overboard into the Seaside bays in various test configurations each fall. Amazingly, by 2007 those 200 planted acres had spread to over 3,800 acres and by spring 2010, almost 5,000 acres. The two dispersal strategies of eelgrass (floating flowering shoots transported out of the bed with viable seeds to areas far from its source, and seeds that float on the surface with an air bubble when released from the plant) have contributed to its rapid spread in these Seaside bays where water quality has been good enough to support eelgrass.

In 2014, NOAA's Coastal Services Magazine contained an article Eelgrass Is Once Again Thriving in Virginia’s Seaside Bays. From the article:

The most successful eelgrass restoration project of its kind in the world is alive and growing on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The project’s innovative methods are rapidly expanding seagrass beds, which are improving coastal water quality and positively impacting the overall health of the ecosystem, as well as the fishing and tourism industries that depend on it.

“Using what we learned from years of adult eelgrass planting and water quality research, we began to rethink our efforts to establish eelgrass beds along the shore using a new seed harvest and broadcasting distribution approach,” said Bob Orth, professor of marine science at the College of William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Orth and his team located prime areas for broadcasting seeds and in a relatively short time began seeing tremendous results. Since 2001, 57 million seeds have been broadcast onto 410 acres. Over this time, eelgrass has spread to almost 5,000 acres.


Also see the article on page 26 of the Fall 2014 issue of Virginia Coastal Zone Management magazine.

Virginia Seaside Heritage Program

The Virginia Seaside Heritage Program (VSHP) is a public-private partnership, initiated and funded by the Virginia Coastal Program to address management of the aquatic resources of the barrier islands, bays, and salt marshes along Virginia's Eastern Shore. This area holds tremendous potential to demonstrate appropriate management of economic development and habitat restoration within a rare and fragile ecosystem.

The Virginia Seaside Heritage Program was the second focal area chosen by the Coastal Policy Team to receive significant funding and concentrated coastal resource management effort. The Virginia Seaside Heritage Program built on the momentum of other restoration successes, like those witnessed in the Virginia Oyster Heritage Program (VOHP), the Coastal Program's first focal area, funded from 1999 - 2001.

Virginia Seaside Heritage Program partners developed the tools necessary to support long-term restoration and management strategies. Spatial data inventory and collection is a central goal of the program. By digitally mapping seaside resources, the partners can evaluate existing conditions and fine-tune their efforts.

Under the Virginia Seaside Heritage Program, VMRC constructed approximately three acres of reef in 2003 and 2004. This included two acres in Gull Marsh and near Wreck Island and one acre in Gargathy Bay and Cockle Creek.

Under the Virginia Seaside Heritage Program, VIMS is working with the Center for Conservation Biology to understand how clam aquaculture affects the feeding activity of migratory shorebirds. The Summer/Fall 2005 issue of Virginia Coastal Management Magazine contains more information on VSHP, including summaries of eelgrass and oyster restoration projects, invasive species removal, and avian predator removal.


Virginia Wetlands Reports are bi-annual newsletter published by the Center for Coastal Resources Management at VIMS that contain topics of interest related to wetlands and coastal management. There is a listing of articles by subject.

The Comprehensive Coastal Inventory (CCI) Program of the Virginia Institute for Marine Science (VIMS) monitors tidal shoreline conditions in order to develop policy and management recommendations for Virginia. Tools developed by the CCI include:

  • Shoreline Situation Reports: Detailed shoreline condition inventories for 11 coastal localities.
  • Blue Infrastructure (BI): Online interactive mapping tool that provides spatial information for Virginia’s aquatic resources. The ecologically and economically significant aquatic resources (marine and freshwater) within the coastal zone, including oyster reefs, blue crab sanctuaries and aquaculture sites were mapped to help coastal land use planners better understand the potential impacts of proposed shoreline development on these resources.
  • Marina Suitability Tool: This tool ranks suitability for marina siting based on three major categories: habitat, water quality, and design. Three possible levels of suitability can be assigned for a site: high (desirable), moderate (desirable with limitations), low (undesirable).
  • Wetlands Mitigation Targeting Tool: This tool was created to identify sites suitable for the creation of wetlands as a mitigation measure.
  • Wetlands Data Viewer: This tool allows users to obtain National Wetland Inventory (NWI) statistics for any hydrologic unit in Virginia.
  • Waterfront Development Tool: This tool assists land managers by evaluating conditions on the landscape based on three major categories: existing land use, impacts to sensitive habitat, and potential impacts to water quality. The GIS-based model ranks criteria based on a designated set of rules and conditions.


In June 2009 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the Virginia Seaside Bays Restoration project would receive support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support 55 jobs that will restore oyster reefs, scallops, and seagrass beds on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The project is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy of Virginia, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program.

Oysters play an important role in marine systems as food for people and wildlife, and also help to clean water by filtering it as they feed. Seagrass also plays an important role in helping keep water clean, by knocking down and absorbing sediment. Seagrass also serves as a nursery for wildlife, such as finfish, clams, crabs, and other shellfish, including scallops.

The $2 million restoration project will occur from Wachapreague Inlet to the Chesapeake Bay mouth, including Burton Bay, Bradford Bay, Swash Bay, Hog Island Bay, Spider Crab Bay, Ramshorn Bay, Mockhorn Bay, and Magothy Bay.

Over an 18-month period, 24 acres of functional oyster reefs, 100 acres of seagrass, and 2.4 million scallops will be created or introduced in the seaside bays. Five of these oyster acres will be designated as rotational harvest areas on the seaside, providing economic return to the watermen of the local seaside communities.


NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources (such as birds and shellfish beds), sensitive shorelines (such as marshes and tidal flats), and human-use resources (such as public beaches and parks).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center, in partnership with NatureServe and others are developing the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a standard ecological classification system that is universally applicable for coastal and marine systems and complementary to existing wetland and upland systems.



Contact Info

Laura McKay
Coastal Program Manager
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Laura.Mckay@deq.virginia.gov
(804) 698-4323

Scott Lerberg
Coastal Specialist
Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS)
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
lerbergs@vims.edu
(804) 698-4537

Tony Watkinson
Virginia Marine Resources Commission
Habitat Management Division
2600 Washington Avenue
Newport News, VA 23607
Phone: (757) 247-2255
Email: Tony.Watkinson@mrc.virginia.gov

Chip Neikirk
Deputy Chief
Habitat Management Division

Phil Roehrs
Public Works/Beach Management
City of Virginia Beach
2405 Courthouse Dr.
Municipal Center, Bldg. 2
Virginia Beach, VA 23456
Phone: (757) 427-4167

Footnotes

  1. State of Virginia's Coast 2001
  2. State of Virginia's Coast 2001
  3. Virginia Seaside Heritage Program Accomplishments 2002-2012.
  4. VIMS a Partner in Coastal America Award by David Malmquist. William & Mary VIMS Top Stories. January 12, 2010.



State of the Beach Report: Virginia
Virginia Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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