Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

VIMS Department/Program

Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM)

Publication Date



Proliferation of artificial structures to protect shorelines has introduced novel habitat to most coastal environments and fragmented natural habitats. These changes can result in disrupted connectivity, habitat homogenization, and altered estuarine landscapes, with uncertain implications for estuarine and marine faunal community structure and function. In estuaries, such as Chesapeake Bay, where soft-bottom habitat dominates and rocky shorelines are rare, the introduction of artificial rocky structure may enhance recruitment of species that are limited by the availability of suitable substrate including native and introduced species (Bilkovic & Mitchell 2013). There is a significant lack of empirical data on the types of epibiotic assemblages that colonize artificial structures, including information on seasonal changes in species composition and abundance and the prevalence of non-native species on offshore breakwaters. Breakwater are shore-parallel structures designed to reduce wave effects. They are typically high-crested rock features that remain partially emerged during all tides. These structures alter the hydrodynamics and physical conditions around them, likely affecting the distribution of epibiota which have planktonic larvae that rely on currents to transport them to suitable substrate for settlement. Considering the extensive and ongoing practice of hardening coastlines, it is imperative to understand the ecological consequences of converting existing coastal habitat to artificial substrate.

The SEED funding provided by the WISE Initiative supported the collection of pilot data on the seasonal composition and distribution of colonizing epibiota (oysters, mussels, barnacles, algae) on artificial hard structures (breakwaters). The intent is that research conducted in this SEED grant would support the development of a more extensive proposal to complete a regional project within East Coast estuaries that assesses the implications of introducing artificial structures for erosion control on estuarine species distribution and composition.

Our study objective was to document the seasonal composition and distribution of colonizing epibiota on artificial hard structures over the course of a year.


Final Report to the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), National Science Foundation, College of William &Mary.



Shore protection, shorelines, breakwaters, epibiota


NSF Prime Award: HRD‐1107147, Women in Scientific Education (WISE), Subrecipient Grant No. WISE‐Dec2012‐3‐01