New Research: Living shorelines more cost effective way to control coastal erosion

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BROAD CREEK, N.C. (WNCT) – Shoreline erosion is a growing problem for many along the North Carolina coast. Research at the UNC Institute of Marine Science has already shown that a more natural approach, known as living shorelines, can help by slowing down wave energy.

“Salt marsh plants in and of themselves are actually pretty good at breaking wave energy,” said Carter Smith, a PhD student studying living shorelines at the UNC Intuitute of Marine Sciences.

In a new study, Smith set to find out whether bulkheads or living shorelines were more cost effective for homeowners in the long run. She documented damage done by Hurricanes Irene and Arthur along the Outer Banks.

“We saw that approximately 20% of the shoreline that was bulkheaded was damaged after each storm,” said Carter.

She also found that bulkhead repair for that damage was twice as costly as for living shorelines. And the annual maintenance for a bulkhead can be four times as costly as for a living shoreline. Until now… the higher upfront cost has stopped some from going that route.

Smith hopes this new research will help make a homeowner’s decision to put in a living shoreline a little easier. The Wargins in Broad Creek had theirs put in last fall and they’re already seeing positive results.

“As advertised, we’re seeing an increase in the soil on this side of the oyster shells, so on the home side we’re seeing it fill in a little bit,” said Kurt Wargin, who has lived along the Bogue Sound in Broad Creek for 25 years.

After watching Bogue Sound creep closer and closer to their home over those 25 years, the Wargins are encouraged by the changes they’re already seeing.

“Already we’ve seen that the bags of oyster shells that act like a filter I guess in a way and stabilize the shoreline, we’re seeing the oyster bags themselves are filling with soil,” added Wargin.

And the process will only continue in the years to come. Full results are expected at the Wargin property in about 1 to 2 years.

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