The challenge that coastal cities face is developing programs and policies that promote the continual health of coastal ecosystems. In response to this vexing challenge, many cities have turned to living shorelines as a potential solution for protecting fragile coastal ecosystems and buffering city shorelines.
Living shorelines may simply be defined as nature-based approaches to shoreline protection. Since living shorelines work in concert with existing natural systems, they have proven to be an environmentally friendlier alternative for averting coastal erosion than hardened shoreline structures, such as bulkheads or jetties. The term living shorelines encompasses a number of different coastal restoration techniques, such as planting marsh grasses, developing oyster reefs and installing coir logs.
Though living shorelines are a valuable coastal restoration tool, public knowledge about these practices is generally low, and there aren’t many suitable demonstration sites for members of the public to see living shorelines firsthand.
This lack of public communication about existing living shorelines is a major obstacle for local government staff, as it is hard to tout the benefits of alternative development practices without being able to show how they operate in the real world. To rectify this, Biloxi city staff applied for technical assistance and funding under the EPA “Connecting the Dots to Resilience” project. As part of this project, the city of Biloxi partnered with Sea Grant staff and local non-profits to devise a comprehensive strategy to promote the value of living shorelines.
Initially, project partners evaluated a number of different locations for their potential suitability as demonstration sites for living shorelines techniques. After no suitable site was found for a new demonstration project, the conversation shifted to highlighting existing, or soon to be constructed, living shorelines located around Biloxi.
Eventually, three locations were selected to be recipients of some level of targeted advertising or promotion: Camp Wilkes, The Old Brick House and Grand Bay NERR. Each project site had a unique story to tell, so it was a challenge to develop a communications strategy that was consistent, while also relaying site-specific information about the type of living shoreline methods used.
After much deliberation the team decided to develop three interpretive signs, which would be the focal point of living shorelines communication in Biloxi. Each site would have one interpretive sign, but aside from conveying basic information about the specific project in question, there would be a number of unique components, which would aid in the retention of knowledge.
For example, each sign has a QR code. A QR code is essentially a barcode, which when captured on a Smartphone, redirects you to an online website. In this instance the QR code on each interpretive sign will redirect to a Sea Grant website with additional information on living shorelines. This should also include information specific to the three project sites such as prior images showing how the projects have evolved over time.
Also, there are basic facts and information on living shorelines, which carry over to all three signs. This means that while the signs do convey information specific to each site, they also reinforce basic themes and facts essential to the understanding of living shorelines. Such an approach should also be beneficial in the event the city of Biloxi needs additional signs as they can simply retain large portions of the original template and swap out for specific project information as needed.
Finally, these new interpretive signs will help Biloxi city staff key in on specific messages and themes to convey when discussing the importance of living shorelines to the general public.
Addressing the public knowledge gap about living shorelines is a crucial component to furthering coastal resilience. Much like green infrastructure, one of the main selling points of living shorelines is that they are a means of actively enlisting assistance from private homeowners to further the goals of environmental sustainability.
If a significant number of coastal residents choose living shorelines over hardened structures, then coastal communities have not only expanded their ecological footprint, they have fostered new allies who have a direct stake in the environmental integrity of the region.