Cedar Island Marsh Creation: Leveraging the Co-Benefits of Coastal Restoration

As our region continues to adapt to the effects of sea level rise, nature-based features can be an important part of the solution. Although long hailed as beneficial to coastal resilience, the actual advantages of such approaches are often inflated. For example, the use of marsh restoration as a buffer to storm surge, or as an alternative to hardened structures, can be viable in the right situations or under the right storm conditions, but can nature-based solutions alone serve as an effective coastal flood defense measure? Or are such features at best a garnish to the more traditional civil infrastructure improvements needed for higher levels of protection, providing ecological and aesthetic value but not significant protection themselves?

The Cedar Island Marsh Creation Project on the Eastern Shore of Virginia showcases how nature-based solutions can not only add value to coastal resilience efforts, but also how its co-benefits can be leveraged to help turn a concept into reality. The southern reach of Cedar Island is rapidly eroding and migrating towards the mainland, much like many other barrier islands along the Eastern Shore coast. It is also highly susceptible to breaching, which has in the past led to the formation of new tidal inlets lasting a decade or longer. The results are loss of valuable habitat and increased risks to the mainland communities. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and other academic partners first conceptualized the project as a demonstration for how bayside marsh platforms can help sustain barrier island systems. This presentation will explore the various benefits of the proposed 200-acre marsh creation, and how the funding-limited team has been able to advance the project towards implementation.

More information about the Cedar Island project can be found in a recently published article entitled “Leveraging the Interdependencies Between Barrier Islands and Backbarrier Saltmarshes to Enhance Resilience to Sea-Level Rise” in the journal Frontiers of Marine Science.