Rockefeller Foundation Project Unveils Coastal Protection Proposal for Narragansett Bay

By ecoRI News staff

Leading climate scientists, engineers, designers and scholars recently collaborated to create comprehensive resiliency design proposals for vulnerable coasts along the North Atlantic, such as Rhode Island’s.

Structures of Coastal Resilience (SCR), a Rockefeller Foundation-supported project dedicated to providing resilient design proposals for urban coastal environments, focuses on four vulnerable coasts: Narragansett Bay; Jamaica Bay in New York; Atlantic City in New Jersey; and Norfolk, Va.

Each of the project locations feature ongoing projects by the Army Corps of Engineers, and each location is highly prone to flooding and socioeconomic vulnerability, according to project officials. The goal of SCR is provide actionable project recommendations for hurricane protection and climate adaptation.

“The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy highlighted the vulnerability of urban coastal areas to the effects of catastrophic storms and climate change,” said Guy Nordenson, SCR’s project director. “Coastal communities must adapt planning strategies to mitigate the risk posed by these natural hazards.”

The following is a synopsis of the Narragansett Bay section of the project:

The bay’s shoreline types include fringing and meadow salt marshes, bulkhead and other modified perimeters, according to the SCR. The bay’s coastal areas feature a combination of disturbed sites, preserved marshland and post-industrial fill.

Current shoreline planting strategies offer few solutions for wide-ranging conditions and focus on preservation rather than creating resilient, robust landscapes.

As Rhode Island was spared the worst of the devastation associated with Hurricane Sandy, it’s an ideal location for developing structures of coastal resilience that can be advanced gradually and through systematic evaluation and adaptation, according to project officials.

Storm surge and upland flooding in the Narragansett Bay watershed pose a considerable risk to coastal municipalities along the bay. As increased urban runoff and higher saltwater levels merge on the coastal zone, some species are threatened while others adapt. Marsh and dunes recede while weedy forest cover creeps closer to the beachfront. Plants with high salt tolerance that are capable of rapid establishment have begun to colonize areas with accommodating soil. Designers can capitalize on this process, deploying plants to prevent erosion and build resilient coasts.

This project proposes a combination of large stands of vegetation with minimal, precisely located, hardened coastal structures to provide cost-effective redundancy to coastline protection measures. These steps, according to the study, will add to the life span and effectiveness of traditional coastal structures, limit coastal erosion, and provide habitat and recreational space.