Published scientific research and practical experience over the last two decades confirms that Mother Nature is the best steward of your coastal property. Hardened structures have failed for years to protect our homes and businesses from storms. Living Shorelines are an environmentally superior, competitively priced, 21st century alternative. As a more effective and naturally sound solution, living shorelines can improve water quality, provide habitat, increase biodiversity, and promote recreation.

Living Shorelines are built from natural materials, are integrated with the landscape, help trap sediments from tidal waters, and allow the marsh behind them to grow. They create a natural, and highly storm-resilient barrier to wave energy.

A living shoreline on your property can:

  • Soften the border between man-made structures and the natural landscape, increasing your connection to the water and improving access for water-based activities

  • Reduce wave energy and erosion

  • Restore habitat for plants and animals

  • Increase resilience to storms

  • Trap sediment to stabilize and reclaim your waterfront

  • Beautify your investment

The short animation below shows how waves react when hitting a hardened shoreline versus a living shoreline. The living shoreline absorbs and attenuates the energy of the wave, preventing erosion and allowing the growth and expansion of resilient marsh.

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Annotated Bibliography

Scientists have studied living shoreline projects to determine how effective they are, particularly compared to bulkheads, at reducing erosion, increasing bio-habitats, and improving coastal environments. The annotated bibliography below summarizes several studies that have been performed to date.

Gittman, R. K., Popowich, A. M., Bruno, J. F., & Peterson, C. H. (2014). Marshes with and without sills protect estuarine shorelines from erosion better than bulkheads during a category 1 hurricane. Ocean & Coastal Management, 102, 94–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2014.09.016 

This study published in Ocean & Coastal Management in 2014 evaluated the performance on living shorelines and bulkheads on preventing erosion following Hurricane Irene, a Category 1 hurricane. Hurricane Irene came ashore near Cape Lookout, NC with 85 mph winds in August 2011. This study was the first to provide data on the shoreline protection capabilities of marshes with and without living shoreline offshore sills relative to bulkheads during a substantial storm event. Sites were evaluated along the NC barrier islands, and in the central coast of NC, where the bulk of the storm’s energy was felt, Irene damaged 76% of bulkheads surveyed, while no damage to natural marsh or living shoreline offshore sills was detected. The study also found that natural marsh within 15 miles of the hurricane’s landfall, whether behind a living shoreline or not, was more resilient than bulkheads. 

Smith, C. S., Puckett, B., Gittman, R. K., & Peterson, C. H. (2018). Living Shorelines Enhanced the Resilience of Saltmarshes to Hurricane Matthew (2016). Ecological Applications, 28(4), 871–877. https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1722 

Coastal Scientists evaluated rock sill living shorelines compared to natural marshes and bulkheads in North Carolina for five years, including before and after a hurricane. Published in Ecological Applications in 2018, this study evaluated sites for changes in surface elevation, marsh plant density, and structural damage from 2012 to 2017. During this time, Hurricane Matthew, a Category 1 hurricane, sat off of the NC coast for approximately 24 hours, causing significant wind and water damage. Their results showed that living shorelines exhibited better resistance to landward erosion during Hurricane Matthew than bulkheads and natural marshes and maintained the landward elevation behind the structures without requiring any repairs during the study period. They also found that marsh densities increased over time behind the living shorelines when compared to natural marshes. 
 

Polk, M. A., & Eulie, D. O. (2018). Effectiveness of Living Shorelines as an Erosion Control Method in North Carolina. Estuaries and Coasts, 41(8), 2212-2222. doi:10.1007/s12237-018-0439-y

This study, published in the journal Estuaries and Coasts in 2018, compared the effectiveness of living shorelines and bulkheads in respect to shoreline protection. Shoreline surveys were conducted on 17 living shoreline projects and at 12 sites along the North Carolina coast. The position of the shoreline at the current time with the living shoreline in place was compared to the position of the shoreline over time used aerial photography to determine the shoreline change rate (SCR). All sites showed a significant reduction in SCR of up to 0.51 meters per year and six (6) of the shorelines accreted (i.e., grew). This study supports the convention that living shorelines can reduce the rate of erosion and potentially restore lost shore zone habitat.

 

Davis, J. L., Currin, C. A., O’Brien, C., Raffenburg, C., & Davis, A. (2015). Living Shorelines: Coastal Resilience with a Blue Carbon Benefit. Plos One, 10(11). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0142595

Scientists at the NOAA National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research and others assessed the value of living shorelines for their capacity for carbon Sequestration. Living shorelines maintain and grow marsh, particularly Spartina alterniflora and Spartina patens marsh. The researchers measured carbon sequestration rates in living shorelines and sandy transplanted Spartina alterniflora marshes in the Newport River Estuary of North Carolina. The marshes sampled ranged in age from 12 to 38 years and represented a continuum of soil development. Carbon sequestration rates ranged from 58 to 283 g C m-2 yr-1 and decreased with marsh age. The scientists concluded that wide-scale use of the living shoreline approach to shoreline management may come with a substantial carbon benefit.

 

Davenport, T. M., Seitz, R. D., Knick, K. E., & Jackson, N. (2017). Living Shorelines Support Nearshore Benthic Communities in Upper and Lower Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries and Coasts, 41(S1), 197-206. doi:10.1007/s12237-017-0361-8

Scientists at the Virginia Institute for Marine Sciences and others studied the ability of living shorelines to provide ecological services. They examined the biomass of the benthic community, or sea floor, at two sites in subestuaries of Chesapeake Bay. At one site, a bulkhead was removed and replaced with a living shoreline. At the other site, an eroding marsh was stabilized with a new living shoreline. Communities of large animals (>3mm) living in the sea floor increased at both locations. At the site where the bulkhead was removed, the community composition changed significantly following the installation of the living shoreline with more and larger bivalves (clams, oysters, etc.) at the site after installation of the living shoreline than before with the bulkhead.

Scyphers, S. B., Picou, J. S., & Powers, S. P. (2014). Participatory Conservation of Coastal Habitats: The Importance of Understanding Homeowner Decision Making to Mitigate Cascading Shoreline Degradation. Conservation Letters, 8(1), 41-49. doi:10.1111/conl.12114

This study published in 2014 in a journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, explored the values and decision making of waterfront homeowners and identified two interlinked and potentially reversible drivers of coastal degradation. The researchers determined that: (1) misperceptions regarding the environmental impacts and cost-effectiveness of different shoreline conditions was common and may lead to homeowners installing bulkheads and other “armored” structures and that (2) many homeowners reported only altering their shorelines in response to damage caused erosion due to bulkheads installed on their neighbors properties. The authors stated that these findings suggest that a single homeowner’s decision may trigger cascading degradation along a shoreline, which highlights the necessity of protecting existing large stretches of natural shoreline. They also found that most homeowners were concerned with environmental impacts and preferred the aesthetics of natural landscapes, both of which could indicate nascent support and pathways for conservation initiatives along residential shoreline