Making Waves — Delaware

October 30, 2023

Climate problems may seem overwhelming, but people all around this great nation are taking action. This week’s column looks at: DELAWARE and the question is: What is a Living Shoreline and can it save Delaware’s coast?

Delaware is wedged between the eastern shore of Maryland and the Atlantic Ocean, and pinned at its northern tip by the megapolis of Wilmington and greater Philadelphia. The bottom third of the state faces the Atlantic; the rest of the state faces the Delaware Bay to the northeast. From south to north, the coastline moves from saltwater to freshwater. Saltwater beaches are a critical spawning ground for horseshoe crabs whose eggs are a key food source for migratory birds. The central coast is a critical habitat for the Northern Diamondback Terrapin, the only aquatic turtle species in the US that lives in brackish (salt/fresh) water. Northern cities rely on tributaries in the Delaware River watershed for drinking water.

Delaware was the first colony to ratify the US Constitution, hence its nickname “The First State.” It is further distinguished by having the lowest mean elevation (60 feet above sea level) of any of the United States and therefore could be the first state to go largely underwater as a result of climate change. With a tidal shoreline of 381 miles, its three counties have long been susceptible to coastal and river flooding. Worse, Delaware faces the double threat of rising sea levels plus land subsidence – the sinking of land due to geologic forces, a condition shared by a number of eastern states.

These problems are not new. Sea levels have risen steadily since the middle of the 20th century, and have accelerated in recent decades. Over the past two centuries, acres of marshes have been drained and channeled; over-development has degraded both saltwater shores and natural riverbanks and introduced hard infrastructure like seawalls, levies, dams, retaining walls, riprap, groins, and jetties that stop natural systems from depositing sediment, impede water flows through estuary habitats and in some cases make the land inaccessible to species that must come ashore to breed.

In an effort to build up coastal resiliency, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DE NREC) coordinates with the Living Shoreline Committee on over a dozen projects designed to help rebuild natural systems along the coastline. Rebuilding coastal zones with beach sand, dunes, reefs, and marshes is key to protecting human infrastructure, and also safeguards the natural functionality of the environment – which serves as a storm buffer. Their before and after images of restoration projects are fascinating.

An interactive storymap about Delaware’s living shoreline projects can be found at – along with many other interesting resources from the Delaware Center for Inland Bays. This week’s podcast is actually about a living shoreline project in neighboring Maryland, on Assateague Island. I selected it because it offers the best description of a living shoreline project in audio format.
Podcast: Assateague Voices (Sept 21, 2021)
Episode 15: Living Shoreline, Living Bay [~30 mins]

Let me know if you have a podcast to recommend, have a comment about my column or have trouble finding a particular podcast I’ve mentioned. Happy listening!
[email protected]

Note: This column, part of a series looking at examples of positive climate action, state-by-state, first appeared in the Forest Press 06-22-2022. If you are interested in this state’s topic, check online for updated news, as a lot may have changed in a year.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Subscribe to our newsletter

White Cane Coffee presents Coffee & a Conversation

Don't Miss