Something of Value

A few days ago I had a casual conversation about the weather with someone I had just met. We talked about big storms and I mentioned how terrible the devastation would have been if Hurricane Sandy had crashed into the Northern Neck. He replied, “Well, there is not much around here that is worth much anyway.” This comment has me wondering how people develop perceptions of value about a place and how these perceptions ultimately make their way into public policy.

Northern Neck Fishermen

The Northern Neck is a region rich in heritage and in the natural resources that support our farming and seafood industries. Recreational activities such as boating, hunting, and fishing are also highly valued by residents and visitors to the area. To assume that the natural resources that support these activities will always be here for us to enjoy is not realistic and is naive.  There are forces of nature already at work that are chipping away at our shorelines, washing away soil, and damaging the valuable wetland ecosystems that sustain the seafood industry and provide shelter for migrating waterfowl.

My father, who fought his way across the Pacific during World War II, once told a story about an assault on an enemy position. Hunkered down in a foxhole, his commanding officer shouted at him “Captain, I don’t care where we are on this map, where are we on the ground?” If you want to know where we are on the ground right here and right now on the Northern Neck, walk to the beach at Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve and take a good long look at the dead trees in the water. Not so long ago, those trees were on land. And then, ask yourself what happened to all those little islands that used to be out there, but have now disappeared into the sea.

Sadly, “not worth much anyway” may imply the perception that the monetary value of property is the determining factor when evaluating the benefits of infrastructure investment to protect rural coastal areas from the impact of sea level rise. On the other hand, perhaps “not worth much anyway”, is simply a statement from someone who accepts the fact that sea level rise will take it all and no one can stop it. So why even bother?

Whatever your opinion on the cause or extent of climate change or sea level rise, the bottom line is that the water is coming up. In this new era of diminishing environmental protection, it will be the responsibility of local communities to set the course for achievable and fiscally sound public policy to specifically address the economic costs associated with sea level rise. It is time to end the arguments and begin working together to protect what we know is Something of Value.

The Wetlands Project is a Virginia 501c3 non-profit corporation and our mission is to create and strengthen programs that create long-term environmental and economic value for protecting fragile wetland eco-systems.

For more information, please contact


Living Shorelines on the Rise on Virginia’s Northern Neck

From time to time I am asked “What is the difference between a living shoreline and a wetland?” The simplest answer is that a living shorelines is a nature-based shoreline erosion control technique that mimics the natural functions of a wetland. Site conditions vary, so there are many combinations of living shoreline designs available to property owners. With proper site selection and installation, these living shoreline solutions are effective erosion control solutions and are generally less expensive to install than rip-rap or bulkheads.

Following the Virginia General Assembly declaration that living shorelines are the Commonwealth’s preferred method of shoreline erosion control, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) began developing a new, streamlined permitting process for living shorelines. The first phase of the program has been completed and the new “Living Shoreline Group 1 General Permit” was approved in July 2015. This expedited permit application for non-constructed living shorelines is free and can generally be obtained within 30 days.

In addition to the new permits, more and more resources related to living shorelines are available to property owners on the Northern Neck:

  • Local shoreline contractors are gaining valuable experience with living shoreline installation and maintenance.
  • The Master Gardener’s Shoreline Evaluation Program (SEP) processed a record number of applications in 2016.
  • The Shoreline Evaluation Advisory Service (SEAS) was re-instated by the General Assembly in 2015.
  • The Virginia General Assembly has approved funding for low-interest loans for living shoreline construction and for property tax exemptions for wetlands and buffer areas. NOTE: These provisions are complicated to administer and are at the discretion of individual counties. They have not yet been implemented in any Northern Neck county.

How can you determine whether or not a living shoreline is the best solution for your property? This is certainly a decision that should be left to the pros, rather than the advice of a well-intentioned neighbor! The photos below represent the combined expertise of an established contractor, a shoreline design consultant and a representative from SEAS.

Living Shoreline on North Yeocomico River - July 2016 (Photo ~ The Wetlands Project)

Living Shoreline on North Yeocomico River – July 2016 (Photo ~ The Wetlands Project)

North Yeocomico Living Shoreline - November 2016 (Photo ~ The Wetlands Project)

Living Shoreline on North Yeocomico River – November 2016 (Photo ~ The Wetlands Project)









Although traditional rip-rap construction might have been an option, the team of experts worked with the property owner to create this beautiful living shoreline on the North Yeocomico River in Westmoreland County. Less than one year into the project, the bank erosion has stopped, trees are stabilized and beautiful wetlands vegetation is filling in the shoreline. During high tide, the water spills through openings between and over the rock sill to nourish the plants and complete the important connection between land and sea.

Additional Information:

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The Wetlands Project is a Virginia corporation and our mission is to create and strengthen programs that create long-term environmental and economic value for protecting fragile wetland ecosystems. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation

For more information please contact

Walking the Wetlands Conservation Talk

“I understand the important contributions of small non-profit groups like The Wetlands Project in fostering local historic and environmental resource conservation.”  ~ Kimberly R. Abe, Owner of Kimberly Cape Charles L.L.C.

KimberKA-Kimberly Abe Photoly Abe “walks the talk” and during the coming weeks, that talk is all about wetlands conservation! The Wetlands Project is pleased to announce that we will be the featured non-profit during the launch of a new product line from Kimberly Cape Charles L.L.C

Stop by the Kimberly Cape Charles booth at “Taste by the Bay” at the Tides Inn in KA-Toile PhotoIrvington, Virginia on November 21 to take a look at this exquisite new line of fabrics and toile wallpaper. The beautiful hand-drawn designs are inspired by the historic and natural heritage of the Chesapeake Bay featuring workboats, buildings and working dogs. A percentage of product sales during the event will be donated to The Wetlands Project.

Kimberly Abe has worked with community groups for over 25 years as an architectural historian and county planner, and a background in cultural landscape documentation shines through her designs.  The business model developed for Kimberly Cape Charles incorporates a commitment to donate 10% of profits to small, non-profit conservation groups. The company is also licensing individual designs, creating an opportunity for organizations to receive up to 70% of product profits!

Thank you Kimberly ~ for walking the wetlands conservation talk and for your contributions to our community. Good luck with your new venture!

New website coming soon. Contact details available at: Renaissance

Additional Information

The Wetlands Project is a Virginia corporation and our mission is to create and strengthen programs that create long-term environmental and economic value for protecting fragile wetland ecosystems. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation

For more information please contact

Lessons from Wetlands Warriors

Thursday, May 21 was the 26th anniversary of the National Wetlands Awards. Held at the Botanic Gardens in Washington DC, the awards honor six recipients for excellence in wetlands conservation. Full information about the recipients is available from the sponsoring organization, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). There were many wonderful moments at the ceremony, but my favorite “take-aways” came from the acceptance speeches of two of the award recipients:

  1. Award for Science Research – Dr. Stuart E. G. Findlay spoke of the need for “effective science”. Simply stated, effective science requires excellent communication between scientists and policy makers. “Science must be relevant and transmitted to the people who can do something about it”. As scientists tend to immerse themselves in their work, it is essential to actively seek their knowledge and clarification. Scientists must bridge the important gap between sound research and information gleaned from the Internet by policy makers.
  2. Award for Education and Outreach – Dr. Jacqueline Comito challenged grant-funding organizations to embrace the notion that great marketing will sell the wetlands conservation message and that funding for marketing programs and projects needs to be included in the funding mix for wetlands educational programs!
Scott Schang, Acting President Environmental Law Institute

Scott Schang, Acting President
Environmental Law Institute

Awards for excellence in state program development, restoration, stewardship by private landowners and community leadership were also presented. In the coming weeks there will be announcements regarding new wetlands assessment tools for Virginia and new rule-making that will clarify issues of the controversial Clean Water Act.

Earlier in the day I attended a science briefing on “Water Resources in the United States” at the Capitol, sponsored by the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies (CASS) and ELI. The purpose of the panel discussion was to review the scientific information presented in a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency “Connectivity of Streams & Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review & Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence”. Three (greatly oversimplified by the author of this blog) points emerge:

  • Beginning with headwater streams, our water flows through the land, across the mid and lower reaches of the watershed, and finally reaches coastal estuaries and the ocean.
  • By the time the water reaches the ocean it has collected every nasty chemical or waste product imaginable.
  • The ecosystem services – or FREE benefits – of wetlands along the way are critical in the filtration of this water before it reaches the water supply.

In spite of all the facts, there continues to be a lingering question of how to make the decision about whether or not a connection or “nexus” actually exists between wetlands and water resources.

  • Does the fine line of definition obscure the best course of action to protect wetlands and water resources?
  • Do law makers “feel comfortable” with badgering a scientist simply because their constituents won’t like the scientific data?
  • And finally, how many trade-offs can our water supply withstand?

It is difficult to imagine that “some people” continue to question the connection of water quality with all water flowing across the land. I applaud the scientists at the briefing, the recipients of the National Wetlands Awards and wetlands warriors across the planet for stepping up to the podium, welcoming the questions and presenting the clear and consistent message that our wetlands are inextricably connected to water resources and water quality. Thank you!

The Wetlands Project is a Virginia corporation and our mission is to promote wetlands preservation by creating and strengthening community-based programs that encourage wetlands conservation. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

For more information please contact

The CBPA Says I Have a RPA. Is That Contagious?

No, but protective clothing and muck boots are recommended!

Navigating through the volume of news, organizations and regulations involved with the Chesapeake Bay is a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid gazing anxiously into the distance and wondering aloud “Who ARE those guys?” Keeping it straight can be confusing for property owners seeking answers to routine questions.

When it comes to your shoreline, there are a few basic things you need to know.

First: Every decision you make regarding your shoreline is important. Shoreline management choices made daily by homeowners have an impact on adjoining property, water quality, and habitat for native and migrating species. For example:

  • Choosing a vegetated shoreline in areas with low wave energy preserves the benefits of valuable wetlands ecosystems (benefits to humans), and protects shorelines from erosion and the effects of sea level rise.
  • Hardening that same shoreline with rock or a bulkhead disconnects the water from the shoreline and dramatically reduces the benefits of the wetland and buffer areas.
  • Wetlands areas need to be able to migrate inland away from the water. This is especially important as sea levels rise and we experience higher tides.

Second: That non-contagious RPA is an acronym for “Resource Protection Area” and was established by Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA) passed in 1989. Simply stated, the RPA is the 100 foot area adjacent to the landward side of wetlands and shorelines. Ideally, this “buffer” area should be planted with native trees and shrubs. Buffers filter pollutants and excess nutrients out of water flowing across the land before the water reaches the streams and rivers that lead to the bay.

Important Point: RPAs are strictly regulated and there are rules about what you can and cannot do. Be sure to contact your County Land Use Office BEFORE beginning ANY work in the RPA. In general:

  • Clearing vegetation in the area is limited to what is necessary to provide reasonable views of the water, access to the water or for general forest management purposes.
  • Removal of healthy vegetation typically requires a county permit.
  • Cleared healthy vegetation must be replaced. Choosing native plants is always preferred.

What if you have an RMA instead? The RMA is a “Resource Management Area. In Virginia’s Northern Neck counties, all land outside of the RPA is typically in the RMA.

The important issues related to the RMA for this discussion are the stormwater management regulations, which were approved by the Virginia General Assembly in 2011.

In vegetated areas, rain soaks into the ground or is soaked up by plant roots. When rain falls on impervious surfaces, such as roofs and pavement it becomes stormwater run-off. During a heavy rain, stormwater flows rapidly across imperious surfaces, accumulating pollutants that flow directly into wetlands and streams. Large volumes of water also cause serious erosion which increases sediment in waterways. It is interesting to note that stream health begins to degrade when a watershed has more than 10% of impervious surfaces!

The intent of the regulations is to keep stormwater on the property by implementing a variety of best management practices that help water filter into the ground onsite. Here are the basics of what you need to know:

  • Permits for home improvement and new home construction will require compliance with the new stormwater regulations.
  • There are 14 Virginia stormwater best management practices. Some of these are vegetated buffer strips, rain gardens and rooftop disconnection, which directs rooftop downspouts across vegetated areas. Lawn or turf is considered an impervious surface!
  • Vegetated buffers and rain gardens should always be planted with native plants to ensure a high plant success rate.

Stormwater is affecting water quality across the country. New regulations are popping up constantly that will most likely affect you, wherever you live. Introducing some stormwater management planning into your garden is a great idea!

A handy guide for analyzing your property for effective stormwater designs can be found at

The Wetlands Project is a Virginia corporation and our mission is to promote wetlands preservation by creating and strengthening community-based programs that encourage wetlands conservation. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

For more information please contact


Will Climate Change Affect Wetlands?

The answer is YES!! As tens of thousands of protesters gather in New York on Sunday for the People’s Climate March, today is a good day to shout out

“Don’t forget about wetlands when you talk about climate change!” 

Global wetlands are already under stress from human activities and natural events, and the warmer temperatures associated with climate change will increase the rate of global wetlands loss and degradation.

If you know anything about wetlands, you already know that these valuable environmental assets are the most productive ecosystems on earth.  Wetlands quietly work 24/7/365 and are a key link in the world water supply, which is more of a critical commodity everyday. Wetlands:

  • protect property from erosion
  • filter impurities from water running off the land before the water reaches a body of water
  • provide habitat and nurseries for wildlife and fisheries

The effect of climate change on wetlands varies depending on the characteristics of the wetlands and with their loss we also lose valuable ecological benefits:

  • Sea level rise will inundate (and essentially drown) coastal wetlands, making coastal areas more vulnerable to tidal and storm surges.
  • Increasing salinity will push into coastal watersheds, resulting in further loss of freshwater wetlands.
  • Flooding and drying cycles of wetlands will create loss and change to habitat for migratory birds and marine fisheries.
  • Invasive plants will displace native species.

It is almost impossible to discuss the effect of climate change on wetlands without mentioning one of our favorite topics, Wetlands Lifestyle. What can YOU do?  It is so easy! Do nothing but give your marsh space to romp, grow and roam freely along and away from the shoreline. Get to know your marsh plants. Be as proud of your wild and tangled marsh beauty as you are of an exquisite prize rose.

~ Love Your Marsh! ~

Kosteletzkya virginica (Marsh Mallow)

What’s a Riparian Buffer and How Can I Get One?

A riparian buffer is a vegetated area next to a shoreline and is found along a stream, lake, river, marsh or coast. These vegetated areas stabilize shorelines and banks, filter pollution from stormwater runoff and provide habitat for creatures that live near water’s edge. Some people call riparian buffers our “last line of defense” for protecting water quality.

Waterfront homeowners lusting after carpet-like lawns are especially in need of riparian buffers! Before piling up tons of rock for a rip-rap revetment, or building a fortress-like bulkhead, take a good look at your property and imagine creating a natural connection between land and water with a mix of native trees, shrubs, grasses and groundcover. There are options and there are many people who can provide information to assist you.

So, this is one time you really can sit back and watch the grass grow. Take a giant 100 foot step back from the edge and park your mower. Forget about fertilizer. This is your chance to make a difference in restoring the health of our precious waterways and preserving our natural heritage.

More information:

What is Swamp Rock Music?

“Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou!”

Hank Williams ~ “Jambalaya”

Think “gritty”, soulful”, “funk” and “rhythm and blues”. There is a tendency to lump Swamp Rock together with Swamp Pop, which grew out of the Mississippi Delta and southeast Texas and pulls together the influences of Cajuns, Creoles, blues, and county and western musicians.  Although Swamp Rock has roots in Swamp Pop, there is a distinct difference as Swamp Rock was heavily influenced by the rock and roll of the 1960s.

By the late 1950s, Swamp Pop musicians had come onto the national scene, focused on singing more in English rather than French, and switched from folk instruments such as the accordion and iron triangle to electric guitar, bass, horns and drums.  During the 1960s Swamp Pop was infused with a funky guitar beat, soul music, and danceable rhythm and blues resulting in what is now know as Swamp Rock.  Oddly enough, although Swamp Rock defines a genre of music, it has little to do with swamps!

Do you have a favorite Swamp Rock tune?  How about Tony Joe White’s classic “Polk Salad Annie”?  Put on your dancin’ muck boots, grab your partner and hit the dance floor for some great Swamp Rock!

Wetlands Lifestyle

You heard it here first. Wetlands might just be the coolest trend on social media, the hottest cause to support – all this and also one of the muddiest, most ecologically productive places you will ever visit. What could be more stylish?

The latest trends in “Wetlands Lifestyle” are coming your way from The Wetlands Project. When is the last time you listened to some great “Swamp Rock” or saw a movie filmed in a beautiful bayou? Let’s not forget wetlands art, architecture and practical information such as kitchen utensils for wetlands cuisine or how to build a better boardwalk over your marsh.

And, of course, everyone wants to dress with style in the wetlands. Imagine showing up at a wetlands event wearing plain rubber boots instead of a proper pair of “wetlands muck boots”. You never know when someone might tag you in a photo. We’ve been there. We can help.

American Wetlands Month is coming up in May. There is still time to get yourself ready. Embrace the stylish trends of Wetlands Lifestyle and you will really stand out in the swamp!

Wetlands Fashion Statement?

Wetlands Fashion Statement?

Henry David Thoreau and his Swamps

The 19th century American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau was called the “Patron Saint of Swamps” by Dr. Rod Giblett of Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. Those of us who studied American literature are familiar with Mr. Thoreau’s writing about life and nature. Somehow, I missed the part about the swamps:

Yes, though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighbourhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a Dismal Swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp.”

And one of my particular favorites :

“… that peculiar fragrance from the marsh … the fragrance, as it were, of the earth itself.”

This is a man who loved wetlands. His writing includes passages about not only walking around the perimeter of the wetlands, but marching straight in, sinking down, confident of finding a “hard bottom” before disappearing forever.

Notice that he uses the words “swamp” and “marsh.” There is a distinct difference between the two: swamps have woody plants such as mangroves and trees and marshes have grasses and reeds or sedges. This makes me wonder if Mr. Thoreau would have been as interested in living in a marsh as he was in a swamp; or, if he would have been as favorably impressed by the fragrance of a swamp as he was by a marsh?

The world of wetlands is filled with deep philosophical questions such as the conundrum presented by Mr. Thoreau. I’ll have to think about living in a swamp or marsh versus the garden. Ideally, I would prefer living in a garden of native plants bordered by a healthy wetland that reaches right down to water’s edge.

How about you?

The Wetlands Project is a Virginia corporation and our mission is to strengthen community-based programs that encourage wetlands protection. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

For more information please contact