Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 331–347 | Cite as

Wave Attenuation by Oyster Reefs in Shallow Coastal Bays

  • Patricia L. WibergEmail author
  • Sara R. Taube
  • Amy E. Ferguson
  • Marnie R. Kremer
  • Matthew A. Reidenbach


Oyster reef restoration in shallow estuarine environments has been thought to have the potential to provide shoreline protection as well as oyster habitat. This study was designed to address the question of how effective oyster reefs are at attenuating wave energy in shallow coastal bays. Measurements were made of waves on both sides of four restored intertidal oyster reefs and at a control site with no reef; mean water depths ranged from 0.9 to 1.3 m. The reefs differed in composition and position relative to the shoreline, but all had reef crest elevations between 0.3 and 0.5 m below mean sea level. Differences in wave heights between the exposed/sheltered sides and upwind/downwind sides of the reefs were used to quantify the effects of the reefs on waves under varying tidal and wind conditions. All four reefs were able to reduce wave heights by an average of 30–50% for water depths of 0.5–1.0 m (bracketing the heights of reef crests) and 0–20% for water depths of 1.0–1.5 m (reef crests > 0.25 m below the water surface). For water depths greater than 1.5 m, there was < 10% change in wave heights. In contrast, there was no average decrease in wave height from the more seaward (exposed) to the more landward wave gauge at the control site regardless of water depth. Based on our results, we conclude that fringing oyster reefs can reduce the wave energy reaching the shoreline of marshes with edge elevations close to mean sea level. However, reefs like those in our study have little effect on waves during deeper water conditions, which allow for the largest waves, and are therefore less likely to offer protection to marshes characterized by high edge scarps and marsh surface elevations well above mean sea level.


Oyster reefs Salt marsh Wave attenuation Shoreline stabilization Shallow coastal bays 



We thank the staff of the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center and The Nature Conservancy for logistical support, particularly David Boyd (ABCRC) and Bo Lusk (TNC).

Funding Information

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation through the VCR LTER award 1237733 and by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to The Nature Conservancy (2300.14.042551).

Supplementary material

12237_2018_463_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (794 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 794 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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