The rising sun bathes a coastal wetland in Maryland in soft pink light. Small islands of marsh grass dot the open water.
COASTAL MARYLAND Coastal wetlands play a crucial role as a first line of defense from storm surges. © Kent Mason

Stories in Maryland/DC

Strengthening Coasts

Tackling climate change through mitigation and adaptation.

This page was updated on November 15, 2020.

Sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay have risen about a foot in the last century—an alarming rate at more than twice the global average. By 2050, models project that we could see an average of two feet of sea-level rise. With more than 7,000 miles of Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay shoreline, our communities across the state are already dealing with flooding, marsh loss, and saltwater damage to agricultural fields.

The Nature Conservancy takes a two-pronged approach to tackling climate change: mitigation and adaptation. We mitigate the acceleration of climate change by working to reduce carbon emissions with renewable energy projects. And we adapt to climate change by using science to understand and adjust to the changes that we know are coming.

We are on the front lines of climate change. Nature can help.

Two men stand in hip deep water installing wave energy monitoring sensors. A house sits on a small spit of land behind them.
Coastal Resilience Sensors are installed at a test site on Maryland's Deal Island to measure the differences in wave energy before, during and after storm events. © Severn Smith / The Nature Conservancy

Quantifying Nature's First Line of Defense

Along Maryland’s Chesapeake and Atlantic coasts, tidal wetlands act as the first line of defense against storms and rising seas. To better quantify how these natural coastal features reduce the impacts of storm surge, The Nature Conservancy partnered with George Mason University (GMU) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on a wave attenuation study in 2018. 

After collecting data for one year from sensors installed on a Deal Island marsh, we found a striking data point: the first few feet of tidal marsh reduced wave height by up to 90 percent.

A man and woman set up monitoring equipment along the shoreline of an island in the Chesapeake Bay.
Understanding the effectiveness of natural tidal wetlands. © © Severn Smith / The Nature Conservancy

The success of our Deal Island wave attenuation study has now led to a three-year grant from NOAA’s Effects of Sea Level Rise (ESLR) Program to study and quantify the benefits of coastal habitats across the Chesapeake and Atlantic coasts. 

Through this grant, we are working with GMU, Maryland DNR and an advisory committee of regional experts and coastal managers to model how natural coastal features reduce the impact of storm surge and flooding now and into the future considering numerous sea-level rise projections. We will also develop scenario models to assess the effectiveness of different restoration techniques for improving protective coastal habitats.

The sun rises over Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The sun and a stand of tall pine trees are reflected in the still wa
Sunset over Blackwater River Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge contains one-third of Maryland's tidal wetlands, which provide storm protection to lower Dorchester County. © Ray Paterra / USFWS

Building on this success, in 2020 TNC secured a Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Challenge Award. In Maryland, our REPI project aims to conserve 4,000 acres of coastal habitat along the Atlantic Test Range’s special use airspace to reduce the threat of incompatible development within the airspace and within marsh migration corridors. 

This project is a win for TNC as it will protect marsh migration corridors, improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and provide communities a natural defense against storms and rising seas.


Kelly Leo
Resilient Coasts Program Director


  • Resilient Coasts Program Factsheet

    Helping our coastal communities plan for and adapt to rising seas.

  • Overview of the statewide coastal resiliency assessment completed in 2016 to inform coastal conservation and restoration decisions.

    Maryland Coastal Resiliency Assessment Factsheet

    The statewide assessment results include a Natural Features Analysis, Community Flood Risk Analysis, Marsh Protection Potential Index, and the identification of Priority Shoreline Areas for conservation or restoration actions.