North Carolina has over 10,000 miles of estuarine shoreline or sheltered coast, which are distinct from ocean-facing beaches. Many NC estuarine shorelines are experiencing significant erosion, with average rates of over 20 feet per year in some areas. Estuarine shorelines in NC include some of the most biologically productive and ecologically valuable habitats in the coastal region, including tidal marshes, seagrass beds, oyster reefs, and mudflats and sandflats.
The confluence of coastal development, estuarine shoreline erosion, rising sea levels and degraded estuarine ecosystems have created a pressing need for an evaluation of current approaches to estuarine shoreline stabilization.
Dr. Michael Piehler of the UNC Coastal Studies Institute is participating in a multi-disciplinary research project to examine the ecosystem structure and function associated with bulkheaded shorelines. The project is being led by Drs. Carolyn Currin and John Fear of NOAA’s Beaufort Laboratory and NC National Estuarine Reserve (NERR), respectively. Funding for the project is from the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET). Field research will take place in the three regions of North Carolina (Southern Coast, Central Coast and Northern Coast) which differ in their hydrology and geomorphology.
Bulkheads remain the predominant shoreline stabilization method in North Carolina. This project will initiate research on the effect of bulkhead design and physical setting on ecosystem services. We will be examining the consequences of bulkheads on the full suite of ecosystem services provided by estuarine shoreline habitats. Additionally, this work will assess ecosystem impacts of alternative shoreline stabilization approaches, including offshore stone sills, transplanted oyster reefs, and salt marshes. The project will also involve design and evaluation of demonstration projects which incorporate alternative shoreline stabilization methods. These demonstration sites are excellent educational tools and will be used to evaluate shoreline stabilization approaches, develop adaptive management strategies, and educate local officials, school groups, and the general public about the importance of erosion control.
Research Project Scientist
Program Head, Estuarine Ecology & Human Health
Dr. Piehler’s research focuses on microorganisms and microbially mediated processes in coastal land-water interfaces (particularly wetlands) and near-shore waters. He has conducted work on a broad range of microbial systems including microphytobenthic communities, epiphytic microalgae, benthic bacterial communities, bacterioplankton, and phytoplankton.