“You’ll Love Our Nature,” proclaim the signs greeting visitors to Virginia’s Eastern Shore. For communities along this narrow peninsula separating the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, nature represents more than scenic beauty and recreation. It helps define their culture and economy, and now there’s growing recognition that natural systems also represent their first line of defense against rising seas and extreme storms.
Based in Nassawadox, The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve protects some 60 miles of wild barrier islands. This iconic coastal wilderness—the longest of its kind along our U.S. Atlantic shores—serves as a critical refuge for hundreds of species of plants and animals, especially for migratory songbirds, raptors and shorebirds.
The Eastern Shore also lies within one of the nation’s most vulnerable coastal regions. Sea levels here are rising at three to four times the global average, and storms are intensifying. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent in the past on piecemeal, reactive approaches to these mounting hazards. But engineered infrastructure such as sea walls, groins and jetties has frequently only compounded the area’s vulnerability.
The Conservancy works with leading coastal scientists and community partners to study and document the inherent resilience of the Eastern Shore’s natural systems. Using this extraordinary living laboratory, we’re advancing scientific understanding of how nature can make coastal communities here—and around the world—more resilient against the impacts of our changing climate.
The knowledge we gain is incorporated into a recently developed interactive online tool called Coastal Resilience, which provides local governments with the information they need to plan for a better future.