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Building coastal resilience in the Chesapeake Bay


Swan Island in 2019 after placement of dredged sediments as part of a nature-based restoration effort to protect nearby coastal communities from erosion and provide new habitat for wildlife. Credit: NOAA.

Nature-based restoration efforts on Swan Island aim to protect coastal communities from erosion and storm surge while restoring ecosystems.

Coastal islands and marshes in the Chesapeake Bay provide habitat for many species and protect coastal communities from wave energy. Within the last half century, the effects of shoreline erosion, land subsidence, and sea level rise have accelerated the rate of island submergence and degradation of ecosystems in the region. In one example, the Smith Island complex, of which Swan Island is a part, has eroded at rates of up to 2 meters per year over the past 75 years.1 Nature-based restoration efforts have the potential to reduce erosion in coastal communities, increase resilience to sea level rise, and provide new habitat for wildlife. A multi-agency partnership is working to restore marshlands on Swan Island and fill knowledge gaps on the resilience and ecological benefits of island restoration efforts.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Baltimore District restored Swan Island with dredged sediment from a nearby navigation channel and planted native salt marsh and dune plants throughout 2019. With support from USACE’s Engineering With Nature® (EWN®) Program, USACE and partners (including NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources) are studying the ability of this restoration to reduce storm and flood risk to a nearby community and support healthy ecosystems. The collection of physical and ecological data will be used to quantify benefits derived from the project and inform the management and design of future nature-based restoration projects within the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.


1 Bridges, T. S., E. M. Bourne, B. C. Suedel, E. B. Moynihan, and J. K. King. 2021. Engineering With Nature: An Atlas, Volume 2. ERDC SR-21-2. Vicksburg, MS: U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. http://dx.doi.org/10.21079/11681/40124.