Sanibel Begins Living Shoreline Project Along Woodring Road

by SC Reporter Ariadna Ampudia

The City of Sanibel has officially started the construction of a living shoreline on Woodring Road, located at the end of Dixie Beach Road. The city is taking a different approach in combating erosion, to which the area is known to be prone. The project began on May 16 and is scheduled to take a total of 90 days, according to the city.

Living shorelines, as described by Joel Caouette, an environmental biologist with the city’s Department of Natural Resources, are a unique protection method using man-made features and elements of nature to help maintain a shoreline. Materials such as rocks, concrete structures, mangroves and oysters are used in the joint effort to secure a shoreline.

Being on the edge of the island, the road is subject to high waters, high wind activity and the aftermath of storms, ultimately causing erosion. By using natural features such as mangroves, the living shorelines also help create habitats for fish and wildlife within the area, Caouette said.

Erosion along Woodring Road is being addressed in a new way: living shoreline. SC video by Shannen Hayes

Seawalls, a more common protection method, didn’t really protect an immediate property, Caouette explained. When using a seawall, action and energy from waves deter from the object it is protecting and moving to its surrounding areas. While many may think a seawall protects one’s property, instead it is transferring wave energy to another property, he said.

Living shorelines were much more effective at helping dissipate wave action and energy, Caouette said.

By using representative concentration pathways which are inverted concrete pipes, or RCPs for short, it becomes easier to break down wave energy. When adding a planting component and soil, water travels through the pipes. In due time, roots would begin to grow and create an environment for nature, Caouette said.

“In general, the living shoreline is just better for the environment,” Caouette said. “The goal of this living shoreline is to use a natural solution to give the protection that’s needed for erosion, but also to provide a habitat for the area’s wildlife.”

Caouette said living shorelines do two things: protect infrastructure such as Woodring Road and work with the environment. The city is using reinforced concrete pipes, turned onto their side, with mangroves and reef balls used as a planting feature for the project.

He said the project on Woodring Road was overdue, with it beginning to tear up and becoming exposed to water within the area. The public works department has had to constantly maintain the road to make it passable for residents. Caouette said he hopes the current project will help alleviate the problem of continuously fixing the road.

The project is currently being funded by a grant provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Resilience Coastlines Program. The city is receiving half a million dollars in grants, which will cover construction and environmental monitoring costs.

Cauoette said the project served a purpose of giving proper road access to the residents who live within the area and use it to access their home. He said it also served as an opportunity to provide an environment for birds and fish; furthering continuing the island’s harmony with nature.

The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation had conducted a similar project on Woodring Road in December, using biodegradable products made from potato starch. The project was a collaborative effort with the city and BESE, a company based in the Netherlands that creates ecosystem restoration products.

Kealy McNeal, a conservation initiative coordinator at SCCF, defined living shorelines as a green and eco-friendly alternative compared to a more permanent structure.

“This is how we can get our shoreline back to what they need to be in a way that is not only beneficial for us in the case for erosion, but to also create habitats for animals who have lost that habitat area,” McNeal said.

Woodring Road needed to be restored due to its frequent loss of a shoreline, she said. And it feels as if the road is falling into the water, constantly creeping onto the island.

The SCCF collaborative project had worked to protect mangroves and its seedlings along the road. McNeal said SCCF discovered the biodegradable product was becoming buried, but was stabilizing the sediment along the store.

Caouette described SCCF’s work as environmental monitoring, since the organization looked over the presence of oysters, seagrass and mangroves. However, in order for the city to begin its construction of living shorelines, SCCF had to remove the products used.

The construction on Woodring Road is scheduled to be finished Aug. 16, if there are no delays, Caouette said. The road remains closed and only open for local traffic of residents or contractors. The parking area of Bock Peace Park is also closed and being used as a staging area for equipment.

“We really want this project to hopefully shine and stand out as an example for nature and hybrid-based solutions, not only for the community of Sanibel but to the communities of Southwest Florida,” Caouette said.

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