A $199,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will allow researchers at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) to help protect Werowocomoco — one of the most important Native American sites in the eastern U.S. — from shoreline erosion and sea-level rise. •
Werowocomoco was the seat of power for Algonquian Chief Powhatan when English colonists arrived at Jamestowne in 1607. The site — where Captain John Smith was purportedly saved by Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas — occupies an eroding headland on the north side of Virginia’s York River about halfway between Yorktown and West Point.
The main feature of the restoration project will be two or more sills — long piles of rock placed just offshore and parallel to the low, sandy cliff that forms the existing shoreline. Between sill and shore, sand and marsh grasses will be added for additional habitat and protection. The project will create about 15,000 square feet of marsh while keeping more than 900,000 pounds of sediment and nearly 500 pounds of phosphorus and nitrogen out of the York River each year.
VIMS’ role in the project is to create the conceptual plan for managing the shoreline — figuring out where to place the sills, how long and high they should be, and the distance between them. That requires careful analysis of a host of site-specific factors, including tidal range, water depth, prevailing wave direction and height, frequency of storm surge, prevalence of boat wakes, geometry and orientation of the shoreline, height and composition of the bank, and any existing shoreline-defense structures.