Delaware Estuary Living Shoreline Initiative

From the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE), the Delaware Estuary Living Shoreline Initiative (DELSI) is a pilot project designed to stabilize eroding shorelines of tidal marshes. PDE with Rutgers University has developed the "DELSI Tactic" of living shorelines which uniquely uses a combination of native wetland plants, natural structures, and intertidal shellfish to trap sediment and absorb waves. The DELSI Tactic provides an economical approach to communities that are struggling to combat the erosion of tidal marshes.

In 2007, the PDE and Rutgers Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory launched a joint venture to explore living shoreline methods applied specifically to the unique challenges of the Delaware Estuary. It is a system rich in sediment, battered by high energy, large tidal ranges, and heavy boat traffic. The sediment-rich waters feed abundant wetlands that historically lined the whole Delaware River and Bay up through the tidal fresh zones. PDE and Rutgers pursued R&D to develop living shorelines capable of withstanding high energy, while taking advantage of naturally complex sediment, wetlands, and shellfish habitats. The methodology stemming from this research was coined the DELSI Tactic.

The R&D for the DELSI Tactic was wrapped up in 2011, at which time the Practitioner's Guide and public-friendly Living Shorelines Brochure were produced. Subsequently, PDE produced two additional reports identifying potential sites for DELSI Tactic installation in New Jersey and Delaware. Living shorelines has been adopted as a key strategy for PDE's climate adaptation programming. There are a few living shoreline projects currently in the works, but the Partnership is seeking additional funding to install more.

A majority of the Delaware Estuary’s five million people live in one of the regions three largest cities, including Philadelphia, Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware. This highly commercialized area hosts the largest freshwater port in the world, accommodates the second-largest petrochemical port, and is home to five of the largest East Coast refineries, with over 42 million gallons of crude being transported on the Delaware River every day.

However, the Estuary is also a vital ecosystem, creating habitat for more than 130 species of finfish, as well as clams, oysters and crabs. The second largest concentration of migrating shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere is found in the Estuary, along with habitat for 15 different species of waterfowl, which total more than half-a-million individuals who either migrate through or spend the winter here. Also found in the Delaware Estuary is the largest population of spawning horseshoe crabs in the world.

The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary is a nonprofit organization established in 1996 to take a leadership role in protecting and enhancing the Delaware Estuary, where fresh water from the Delaware River mixes with salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of 28 Congressionally designated National Estuary Programs throughout the coastal United States working to improve the environmental health of the nation's estuaries. Its staff works with partners in three states to increase awareness, understanding, and scientific knowledge about the Delaware Estuary, the region's most important cultural, economic, and recreational resource.



Related Organizations:

  • Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
  • Rutgers University


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study

States Affected:


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