Living Shorelines for Northern Climes

Coastal engineers are working more with nature to solve erosion problems and protect shorelines. This involves using things such as plants, sand or rock instead of “hard” materials like concrete and steel.

The practice is called “living shorelines” and was put forth by Sea Grant’s parent organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2014 with the goal of improving fish habitats, remediating nutrient pollution and buffering sheltered shorelines and estuaries from waves and storms.

The problem is, the techniques employed don’t always work in areas of the country that have four seasons — the plants die back and ice can create problems. Wisconsin Sea Grant is cooperating with Canadian counterparts to develop guidelines and a network of engineers, known as a community of practice, who are interested in living shorelines for cold regions — and they would like more to join them.

Gene Clark, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s coastal engineer, said the idea for the Cold Regions Living Shorelines Community of Practice came after a daylong workshop about living shorelines sponsored by New York Sea Grant in 2014.

“We had this workshop and realized that certainly along the Great Lakes, we didn’t have any guidance. In fact, we had a hard time coming up with some good examples of living shorelines that worked,” Clark said.

At the workshop, Clark began talking with Pete Zuzek, incoming president of the Coastal Zone Canada Association, about practices employed in his country and how to continue the discussion about living shorelines for cold climates. They decided to hold a half-day session in 2016 at the Coastal Zone Canada Conference in Toronto.

“We had maybe 50 to 60 practicing engineers and coastal process specialists talking about it. We heard the same thing: there was a strong desire to learn more but we just didn’t have a lot of case studies to even talk about or share, much less practice the design guidance,” Clark said.

That led them to the idea of forming a community of practice to share information and develop more living shorelines techniques for northern regions. Zuzek invited Danker Kolijn, an engineer from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to join them, and they decided the effort should be binational. They created a scope of work for the community of practice and a website, which they presented at the Coastal Zone Canada Conference in 2018 held in St. Johns, Newfoundland, in July.

Kolijn said the attendees were excited about the idea and wanted to be part of the group.

“There is a lot of really great work being done and there are a lot of people invested in this topic and doing work on it,” Kolijn said.

“The idea of a community of practice is to bring it together . . . and have a place where consultants and people with municipalities can go to seek out this information, and also see the contacts that are available for them to learn more about it.”

Kolijn encourages people who want to join the effort to visit https://www.ccadaptation.ca/en/crlscop and register to get complete access to the information. The group plans to offer webinars and to develop a blog in the future.


Marine Debris With Titus Seilheimer


Fisheries Specialist Titus Seilheimer has been the go-to on behalf of Wisconsin Sea Grant for activity surrounding the NOAA Great Lakes Land-Based Marine Debris Action Plan. “It’s a big issue for me personally,” said Seilheimer, “particularly the questions around what the impacts are to fish and invertebrates and other animals. That’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

One outcome of the work on marine debris is the Marine Debris Collective. https://greatlakes-mdc.diver.orr.noaa.gov

Plastics are one key segment of the marine debris problem. Read on for tips from Seilheimer about what you can do to make a dent in the crush showing up in waterways.

1.  Single-use plastics are one obvious culprit. You may be shocked how long they last!

“Our day-to-day lives are surrounded by plastic meant to be used once. Plastics are designed to be durable and light. They stay in the environment for tens to hundreds of years,” said Seilheimer.

According to data collected from the International Coastal Cleanup and the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which help coordinate trash pickups in coastal areas around the world, some of the most common items littering our shorelines are plastic beverage bottles and caps, plastic bags, straws and coffee stirrers, and takeout containers. A lone plastic bottle can take a whopping 450 years to decompose.

Cigarette butts are another major offender. They’re the most common type of trash found in these cleanups, and they’re not just paper. Most cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate. Aside from being unsightly, those pesky butts take one to five years to decompose.

2.  Plastic fibers from our clothes are a less visible source, yet still problematic.

Synthetic fibers (like polyester, nylon and acrylic) now constitute about 60 percent of the material that goes into clothing worldwide. Fabrics produced from these fibers have a lot of benefits – they can be lightweight, stretchy, breathable, warm and/or sturdy — and they’re cheap to produce. All fabrics shed tiny fibers, especially when washed, and synthetic fabrics shed tiny plastic fibers. These fibers are now ubiquitous, showing up in water, fish and even human waste. A U.S. Geological Survey study found microplastics in every sample of water from the Great Lakes and 29 tributaries.

“Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to catch fibers, so some will pass through and others end up in the biosolids that are spread on farm fields,” said Seilheimer.

Front-loading washing machines, cold water and liquid detergents cause less shedding. Several commercial products are available to trap the fibers in the washer, like the Cora Ball (coraball.com) or the Guppyfriend (available from Patagonia or REI). Filters are also available for septic systems: septicsafe.com/microfiber-filter or environmentalenhancements.com.

3.  Microbeads in personal care products like face scrubs are a success story due to a change in the law – but there are exceptions to that law, so you still need to be a savvy shopper.

Said Seilheimer, “Microbeads are something people have heard about, and there’s been quite a bit of progress made about those.”

As of July 1, 2017, it became unlawful in the U.S. to manufacture rinse-off cosmetic products that contain plastic microbeads. A year later, it became unlawful to sell those products. While those are steps in the right direction for protecting our waters, there are numerous exceptions to this law. There are deodorants, lotions and makeup products that fall outside of the law, so it still pays to check labels when shopping.

One resource you can check is “Beat the Microbead” (beatthemicrobead.org), which lists personal-care product makers that do not use any microbeads in their product lines.

4.  Once debris is out there, it moves around, creating a global problem.

Debris is dynamic. “We can see evidence of the movement of this litter on our beaches and in our waterways. Common items on Great Lakes beaches are similar to the top items in the International Coastal Cleanup,” said Seilheimer.

5.  There’s hope, because you can make a difference with your actions.

While the problem is daunting, we all can play a role in reducing marine debris.

Seilheimer offers these tips: “Be aware of your single-use plastic use. Be aware of the fabrics that you are wearing. Buy natural fibers, use a filter, or wash synthetic fibers less often. Go to an organized beach cleanup or just pick up litter when you see it.”


Bringing Great Lakes Learning in for a Landing


Travelers unfamiliar with the Great Lakes arriving at airports throughout the region have been known to ask locals, “What was that ocean my plane just flew over?”

Capitalizing on such curiosity, an exhibit at the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison from now until mid-June offers a wealth of learning about the inland seas—targeted toward visitors and natives alike. On the airport terminal’s ground floor near the ticket counters, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s Graphic Designer Yael Gen has covered five 63-by-48-inch display cases with expansive and colorful photomurals representing themes of sustainability, resilience, recreation, aquaculture, shipwrecks and education.

The exhibit highlights research on the lakes to ensure their health for fishing, boating and beach-going, along with the economic benefits of each of those activities. It represents Wisconsin as a hub for a burgeoning aquaculture industry and a state with a commercial fishing fleet. Exhibit-goers can also learn more about the power of the lakes, fueled by storms and capable of dangerous waves. It showcases teaching tools designed to boost water-literacy. Finally, it focuses on the more than 170 known shipwrecks that lie in state waters.

Two smaller display cases feature information on aquatic invasive species that have significantly altered the character of the lakes and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus-wide community read for 2018-19, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” by Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dan Egan. 

“Day to day, we tend to focus on these issues on a granular level. This exhibit is a chance to communicate not only the beauty of the Great Lakes but the broad scope of the work Sea Grant does to protect this valuable resource,” Gen said.

The display also includes objects, including aquaculture egg-hatching jars, a rip current warning sign and a porthole from a 1916 Lake Michigan shipwreck.

“In 2017, about 2 million people came through the airport. That means the venue provides a wonderful opportunity to educate a lot of people about our treasured Great Lakes,” said Moira Harrington, Sea Grant’s assistant director for communication, who worked on the display along with Gen.

Harrington also credited the instrumental role of Tandem Press, which manages the exhibit space on behalf of Dane County. The press is a self-supporting entity affiliated with the Department of Art in the School of Education, UW-Madison. It shares the university’s mission by teaching, undertaking research into new and old printmaking techniques and by conducting outreach programs to help educate the public about art in general and printmaking in particular.

Others supporting the airport art space are County Executive Joe Parisi, Airport Manager Kimberly S. Jones and members of the county airport commission and art subcommittee.