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Along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia, storm waves, rising tides, and ship traffic have eroded long stretches of shore.

Josh Raglin is with Norfolk Southern, a rail company with a large coal export terminal there.

“The shoreline erosion was getting close to one of the main roadways, impacting the property in and out of the terminal,” Raglin says. “And so we needed to protect that asset.”

Norfolk Southern considered building a seawall. But the nonprofit Elizabeth River Project proposed a cheaper and more sustainable option: a living shoreline.

“It’s a way of bringing back the river’s natural defenses against wave action,” says Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, director of the nonprofit.

Along 900 feet of shore, workers trucked in sand and planted native marsh grasses to absorb water. They installed rocks to break the waves, and laid down oyster shells to establish oyster habitat.

“You’re not just staving off erosion and addressing rising sea levels, but you’re recreating habitat,” Jackson says.

She says this large living shoreline serves as an important model for how companies and communities can address the threat of sea-level rise and extreme weather.

“It’s green, it’s healthy looking, … it’s gorgeous,” she says.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media