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Ecological Value of Submerged Breakwaters for Habitat Enhancement on a Residential Scale

Abstract

Estuarine shorelines have been degraded since humans arrived in the coastal zone. In recent history, a major cause of habitat degradation has been the armoring of shorelines with vertical walls to protect property from erosive wave energy; however, a lack of practical alternatives that maintain or enhance ecological function has limited the options of waterfront residents and coastal zone managers. We experimentally investigated the habitat value of two configurations of submerged breakwaters constructed along an eroding shoreline in northwest Mobile Bay, AL (USA). Breakwaters comprised of bagged oyster shell or Reef Ball™ concrete domes were built by a community-based restoration effort. Post-deployment monitoring found that: bagged oyster breakwaters supported much higher densities of live ribbed mussels than Reef Ball breakwaters; both breakwater configurations supported increased species richness of juvenile and smaller fishes compared to controls; and that larger fishes did not appear to be affected by breakwater presence. Our study demonstrates that ecologically degraded shorelines can be augmented with small-scale breakwaters at reasonable cost and that these complex structures can serve as habitat for filter-feeding bivalves, mobile invertebrates, and young fishes. Understanding the degree to which these structures mitigate erosive wave energy and protect uplands will require a longer time frame than our 2-year-long study.

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Acknowledgments

The study was supported The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Alabama, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico Program, and Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. M A Lott (formerly with TNC), C Ferraro and J Jordan (Alabama Department of Natural Resources—State Lands Division) were integral for planning and implementing the community-based deployment of the breakwaters. We thank D Byron and the numerous other technicians, graduate students, interns and volunteers who helped with the breakwater construction, deployment and monitoring. We are grateful to L. Coen, S. Picou, and J. Grabowski for comments on our manuscript. The funding sources of our study had no influence on the study design or manuscript.

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Correspondence to Steven B. Scyphers.

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Scyphers, S.B., Powers, S.P. & Heck, K.L. Ecological Value of Submerged Breakwaters for Habitat Enhancement on a Residential Scale. Environmental Management 55, 383–391 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-014-0394-8

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Keywords

  • Community-based restoration
  • Ecosystem engineers
  • Fisheries
  • Living shorelines
  • Oyster reef
  • Participatory management