How coconuts could help restore shorelines on Prince Edward Island
Biodegradable fibre from outer husk of coconuts used to create a 'living shoreline'
A wildlife group in Souris, P.E.I. has turned to an unusual material to help restore shorelines in the area — It is testing out coir, or coconut fibre, made from the outer husk of the coconut.
The wildlife group is using the coconut fibre to create what's called a living shoreline, in part to help combat coastal erosion on the Souris River.
"Down where they do produce coconuts it's a waste product," said Frances Braceland, project manager with the Souris and Area branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation.
"The benefit is it's natural and biodegradable and it's a very tough fibre so in terms of saltwater marsh restoration it's an ideal product to use."
"It's been used fairly commonly down in the U.S.A. and it's starting to be used more and more," Braceland said, who first heard about coconut fibre at a conference in New Orleans.
"Particularly in Louisiana and Delaware, places like that where there's a lot of oil activities or a lot of boat wakes," she said.
The Souris group will test three different methods of creating living shorelines.
In one section of the river, the coconut fibre has been rolled into logs and laid down to form a retaining wall, three logs high.
Then the crew will use a machine they have created, dubbed the silt gator, to pump sediment from the riverbed behind the retaining wall to create the new shoreline.
Coastal shorelines are the fastest-disappearing ecosystems in the world, so something's got to be done.— Fred Cheverie
"There are so many benefits to restoring a saltwater marsh in terms of your water quality," Braceland said.
"And when you take the sediments out of the river channel, it improves fish passage."
In a second area, the crew is putting oyster shells into jute bags that are then wrapped in coconut fibre mats to form another kind of retaining wall.
They're also testing spruce boughs, something the group has used before to rebuild shorelines.
Reduce greenhouse gases
The crew will plant cordgrass on the sediment collected by the silt gator — the marsh grass then helps to reduce greenhouse gases.
"Saltwater marshes are a vital ecosystem for carbon sequestering," Braceland said. "They're very important in terms of climate change."
"Coastal shorelines are the fastest-disappearing ecosystems in the world, so something's got to be done," said Fred Cheverie, watershed coordinator for the Souris branch.
"Every estuary on Prince Edward Island has problems, so we're trying to experiment the best we can, come up with what methods work the easiest and become financially affordable."
Braceland admits the coconut fibre is expensive compared to spruce boughs or oyster shells.
The Souris group received $278,000 for the project over four years from the coastal restoration fund, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
After two years, the group will determine which of the three methods is most effective and try it on a larger scale.
Braceland believes this is the first time coconut fibre is being used this way on P.E.I.
"I was like, 'You must be foolish, there's no way that will ever work,'" said Luke Chaisson, site supervisor for the project. "But now that I see it, it's working great and hopefully it will last a long time."
Watershed co-ordinators from across P.E.I. will visit the site in September.
"There were some raised eyebrows at first but I think they're all watching us pretty carefully," Cheverie said.
"If this sort of thing works out I don't think it will be very long before they start jumping on the bandwagon."