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Living Shorelines

Living Shorelines: Natural Protection of Florida's Coasts

Eighty percent of Florida’s residents live within 10 miles of the coast, enjoying the amazing scenery and serenity, water activities and availability of fresh seafood, and much more. Enjoying the benefits a coastal environment has to offer also comes with the responsibility to preserve its function as a living system. Coastal systems maintain a natural cycle of sediment transport that is vital for productive bays, estuaries, salt marshes and tidal flats. Understanding these erosion and sedimentation processes along with careful site planning can help one determine the best method of shoreline stabilization to protect waterfront property and the quality of the waterbody for all to enjoy.

Living shorelines provide shoreline stabilization using a combination of coastal native vegetation for sediment stabilization and, if needed, breakwaters constructed of oyster shells, limestone rock or other structures conducive to the natural environment.

Shorelines are dynamic environments, experiencing naturally occurring erosion and accretion over time with the fluctuation of wave energy and tidal exchange. This natural process of erosion is exacerbated by anthropogenic activities including dredge and fill operations, seawalls and revetments, wetland drainage and boating, just to name a few. During weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes, coastal property owners watch as their valuable shoreline is washed away, becoming part of the sea once again. In response to this loss, many property owners see as the only solution the construction of hardened structures such as seawalls and revetments, with some even installing aesthetically displeasing rip-rap to protect the property from further erosion. These hardened shorelines produce a host of problems including loss of habitat for numerous marine species and wading birds, further erosion of the property that contains the structure as well as properties adjacent to the structure, water quality degradation and the interruption of natural shoreline processes (sediment transport). While hardened structures are often necessary in areas of high wave energy, they are too often seen in areas of moderate to low energy where non-hardened alternatives could be applied.

So what is a living shoreline? Living shorelines utilize natural habitat elements for erosion control through careful site evaluation and strategic placement of habitat components along the upland-water interface (Ray-Culp 2007). Living shorelines serve to reduce erosion through the implementation of a natural salt marsh composed of deeply-rooted, fast-growing plants that provide shallow water habitat for marine species, attenuate and reduce wave energy, increase sediment acquisition, improve water quality, reduce pollution via wetland filtration, and moderate the effects of storms and floods.

Through generous funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Ecosystem Restoration Section (ERS), working in conjunction with the DEP Environmental Resource Permitting Program, seeks to encourage and assist local coastal property owners, both residential and commercial, to embrace living shorelines as an alternative to hardened shorelines. Interested property owners are encouraged to contact ERS to schedule a site visit to determine the efficacy of this eco-friendly alternative on their property.

Why Choose a Living Shoreline Over a Seawall or Bulkhead?

Problems Associated with Shoreline Armoring:                                   

  • Creates a “bathtub” effect in bays, removing the gentle rolling/lapping of waves on shorelines into “popping” of waves against walls.
  • Perpetuates erosion in front of/behind structure
  • Disrupts longshore sediment transport
  • Creates erosion of adjacent properties
  • Costly to construct and maintain
  • Does not allow for acclimation to sea level rise
  • Provides no habitat for wildlife – loss of intertidal zone
  • Loss of natural shoreline vegetation reduces water quality by removing the shoreline’s ability to filter excess nutrients from runoff.
Last Modified:
February 27, 2019 - 9:42am

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