Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Ocean & Coastal Management
Coastal economies are often supported by activities that rely on commercial or recreational vessels to move people or goods, such as shipping, transportation, cruising, and fishing. Unintentionally, frequent or intense vessel traffic can contribute to erosion of coastlines; this can be particularly evident in sheltered systems where shoreline erosion should be minimal in the absence of boat waves. We reviewed the state of the science of known effects of boat waves on shoreline stability, examined data on erosion, turbidity, and shoreline armoring patterns for evidence of a response to boat waves in Chesapeake Bay, and reviewed existing management and policy actions in Chesapeake Bay and nearby states to make recommendations for actions to minimize boat wake impacts. In the literature, as well as in our analyses, boat wake energy may be linked to elevated turbidity and shoreline erosion, particularly in narrow waterways. In Chesapeake Bay, three lines of evidence suggest boat waves are contributing to shoreline erosion and poor water clarity in some Bay creeks and tributaries: 1) nearshore turbidity was elevated in many waterways during periods of expected high boating activity, 2) armoring was placed along about a quarter of the low energy shorelines of three examined tidal creeks that are exposed to relatively high boating pressure, and 3) 15% of the shorelines we examined throughout the Bay (9000 km) are low energy shorelines that are experiencing high erosion (≥0.3 m/yr) that cannot be attributed to wind wave energy. Still, there remain significant data gaps that preclude the determination of the overall contribution of boat waves to shoreline erosion throughout the Bay, notably, shoreline erosion data in low energy waterways, recreational boating traffic patterns, and nearshore bathymetry. Interim protective measures can be (and have been) applied in high risk waterways, such as small, low energy waterways that have high recreational boating activity, to help reduce shoreline erosion. Policy options used in Bay states and elsewhere include setbacks from the shore, wake restrictions, and speed restrictions; other more restrictive policies may include prohibition on boats of a certain size or limiting the number of passages. Finally, a systems-approach to boat wake impact management using uniform boat wake policies is likely to be the most effective for consistent shoreline protection.
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Bilkovic, Donna Marie; Mitchell, Molly; Davis, Jennifer; Herman, Julie; Andrews, Elizabeth; King, Angela; Mason, Pamela; Tahvildari, Navid; Davis, Jana; and Dixon, Rachel L., Defining boat wake impacts on shoreline stability toward management and policy solutions (2019). Ocean & Coastal Management, 182, 104945.