By Mary Schoell and Marnita Chintala
As we looked out over the water, sounds of laughter from distant kayakers could be heard over the soft ripples that lapped the eroded edge of salt marsh. From this view, it was easy to understand that Sengekontacket Pond—the same pond where Jaws was filmed 41 years ago—and the adjacent salt marsh habitat at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary Exit represented the quintessential beauty of Martha’s Vineyard. However, this area is threatened by both impaired water quality and negative environmental changes, which have eroded almost ten feet of marsh in recent years.
The need for shoreline stabilization inspired a collaboration with the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, the Shellfish Departments of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, the University of Rhode Island, and a team of us from EPA’s Atlantic Ecology Division to address the social and ecological aspects of coastal restoration.
For the ecological component we applied a natural approach to salt marsh restoration, called a living shoreline. This technique uses natural materials such as coconut fiber coir logs and oyster shell bags that cup the marsh edge (see photo to the right). These materials are arranged to reduce wave energy to both enhance the existing marsh and facilitate the growth of new salt marsh area. Because of concerns with nutrient loading in Sengekontacket Pond, the project has also provided us with the perfect opportunity to examine how the use of alternative technologies such as a living shoreline can aid in nitrogen removal.