This month as part of our 50 Stories for Our 50th we are focusing on our Green Infrasturce work. This blog highlights one of our more recent projects in Cape St. Claire, MD. 

On any given day in Cape St. Claire, you can see children riding their bikes down a quiet street, toddlers giggling while their parents push them on a playground swing, and community members recreating near the water way. The thriving Cape St. Claire community and its community beach resides where the mouth of the Magothy river meets the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland. The beach is the centerpiece of a community of more than eight thousand residents. However, the beach today is not what it used to be.  

This image demonstrates how much the shoreline has receded over the past 170 years. In some areas, the main beach has lost over three feet of shoreline per year. Credit: Sustainable Science, LLC

Identifying Problems, Seeking Solutions 

Due to Cape St. Claire’s location, being surrounded by water to the west, east, and north, the Community-owned waterfront properties are highly valued by all. Since 1952, the Community has witnessed severe erosion along these shorelines. 

The location of the project endures significant erosion impacts due to its proximity to the commercial shipping lanes of the Chesapeake Bay. In looking at historic maps of the coastline, it is apparent how water levels have risen and how sand has washed out into the Bay. This area has one particularly long fetch, the distance that a wave travels from its point of origin before reaching land again. At the community beach at Cape St. Claire, waves travel thirty-three miles before hitting the beach. During strong storms with high winds, waves batter the shore. Due to its orientation on the northern portion of the peninsula, the beach is also particularly vulnerable to damage from nor’easters. Rather than standing idly by while this community asset washed away, the community took action to protect their shores. 

A few years ago, the Cape St. Claire Improvement Association contracted Biohabitats, Inc. to assess the neighborhood for potential resiliency projects. They identified several potential project areas, including two living shoreline projects. A living shoreline is a protected, stabilized coastal edge using natural materials like sand, stone, and plants. While hardened shoreline techniques like bulkheads are designed to remain constant, living shorelines are meant to grow and function as a natural system. The re-development of marshes holds the sediment of a shoreline in place, while drawing in additional sediment that can actually attract more sand and shoreline sediments to rebuild coastal edges that have eroded. At Cape St. Claire, one living shoreline is now in place at the main community beach. Two stone breakwaters, built structures extending from the shoreline, were installed at opposite ends of the shoreline, reducing the energy of waves hitting the shoreline. Over fifteen hundred marsh grasses were planted to build off existing dune vegetation. 


Aerial footage of one of the newly installed breakwaters at Cape St. Claire. Credit: Tim Hudspeth, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay 

Celebrating Partnerships

One of the most unique aspects of this project is the long-term dedication of members of the community, partners, and elected officials representing the residents of Cape St. Claire. Senator Ed Reilly, County Executive Steuart Pittman, Delegate Heather Bagnall, Delegate Sid Saab, and Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler have all supported the project and advocated for over $300,000 in state funding be awarded towards the completion of this project. No other time has the collaborative nature been felt more than at a ribbon cutting ceremony that gathered all partners on a beautiful spring day to talk about the history of the project, recognize the hard work and diligence of Cape St. Claire community leaders, and tour the newly installed living shoreline. Funding from the Anne Arundel County Bureau of Watershed Protection and Restoration through the Chesapeake Bay Trust has contributed funding towards the installation of the living shoreline at the main beach. 

Community members, partners, and elected officials gathered in April 2021 to celebrate the installation of the living shoreline project at the main beach at Cape St. Claire Credit: Adam Miller, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Looking towards the future, the installation of a second living shoreline will be completed in fall 2021 along Lake Claire. As the water levels of the Magothy River rise, the shoreline that serves as a barrier between the river and nearby Lake Claire is eroding. If this continues to happen, the dune will erode and remove the tidal barrier to the lake. With funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Cape St. Claire Improvement Association, and the State of Maryland, a living shoreline including the creation of a wetland and oyster reefs will be installed in the near future. Nine bird species of conservation concern will benefit from this project including Bald eagle, Canvasback, Common loon, Common tern, Forster’s tern, Great blue heron, Laughing gull, Least tern, and Spotted sandpiper. This project also supports fish habitat by growing the existing marsh and by planting submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) which serves as a vital habitat for fish and place for them to lay their eggs. Fish species that benefit – striped bass, alewife, and blueback herring. We are all looking forward to continuing the work to protect the habitat and community of Cape St. Claire for the next fifty years and beyond.