Mid-Atlantic
Sharon Killeen of CCRM maps Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline using a heads-up digitizing technique atop a high-resolution aerial image. (WYDaily/CCRM/VIMS)

New Analysis puts Chesapeake Bay shoreline at 11,885 miles

The Chesapeake Bay shoreline — rife with inlets, necks, and tributaries both large and small — stretches 11,885 miles, longer than the entire west coast of the U.S.

Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science have just finished the latest iteration of a suite of online maps that can display the condition of the Bay shoreline along its entire length — every beach, breakwater, boathouse, boat ramp, bulkhead, dock, jetty, living shoreline, marina, mud flat, oyster reef, tidal marsh, and tree-lined bank. If that weren’t enough, users of these interactive tools can also view each aquaculture site, conservation easement, oyster lease, and underwater grass bed, as well as a model-based recommendation for maximizing shoreline health at any location.

A screenshot of the Comprehensive Map Viewer for a section of Hampton, Virginia’s, Chesapeake Bay shoreline, showing just some of the information available for display by users. Click image to access interactive version.
A screenshot of the Comprehensive Map Viewer for a section of Hampton, Virginia’s, Chesapeake Bay shoreline, showing just some of the information available for display by users. Click hereto access interactive version.

Creating and updating these maps requires a hefty investment of time and human resources, one that has paid off in ways both expected and unforeseen. The latest updates combine digital mapping and GPS technology — with researchers from VIMS’ Center for Coastal Resources Management poring over thousands of high-resolution aerial images and motoring in small boats along each and every one of the 62,752,800 feet that comprise the Bay’s Virginia and Maryland shorelines. Their mapping of tidal wetlands began in 1972 and continued until the late 1980s. In 1990, CCRM researchers began mapping shoreline position and conditions. That work wasn’t completed until 2018.

The resulting coastal inventory was the first of its kind worldwide, and now serves as a blueprint for other states with the need for shoreline management. Accessible via web pages for each of Virginia’s 44 coastal localities, these “Comprehensive Coastal Resource Management Portals” or CCRMPs incorporate major changes in mapping technology and the legal landscape during the past 50 years.

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