Living Shorelines: Natural Protection of Florida's Coasts
About 80% of Florida’s residents live within 10 miles of the coast, enjoying the amazing scenery and serenity, water activities, availability of fresh seafood and much more. Enjoying a coastal environment 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 determine the best method of shoreline stabilization to protect waterfront property and water quality.
Living shorelines incorporate 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. 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.
Shorelines are dynamic environments that undergo naturally occurring erosion and accretion with the fluctuation of wave energy and tidal exchange. This natural erosion process is exacerbated by human activities such as dredge and fill operations, seawalls and revetments, wetland drainage, and boating, to name just a few. During weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes, coastal property owners watch as their shoreline is washed away, once again becoming part of the sea. In response to this loss, many property owners believe the only solution is to create hardened structures such as seawalls or revetments, which are sloping structures placed on banks or cliffs in such a way as to absorb the energy of incoming water. Revetments are often constructed of rocks, sandbags and/or wood. Many install riprap -- loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure. These hardened shorelines produce a host of problems, including loss of habitat for numerous marine species and wading birds, further erosion of the property and to adjacent properties, water quality degradation and the interruption of natural shoreline processes such as sediment transport. While hardened structures often are necessary in areas of high wave energy, they too are often seen in areas of moderate to low energy where living shoreline concepts could be applied.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection (RCP), working in conjunction with the DEP Environmental Resource Permitting Program (ERP), encourages and seeks to assist coastal property owners (residential and commercial) to implement living shorelines as an alternative to hardened shorelines. Interested property owners are encouraged to contact ERP to schedule a meeting to determine the potential efficiency of this attractive, eco-friendly option on their property. Additional information is also available at floridalivingshorelines.com.
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 -- the transportation of sediments (clay, silt, pebbles, sand and shingle) along a coast parallel to the shoreline
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, the area that is above water level at low tide and underwater at high tide; can include several types of habitats with various species of life, such as starfish, sea urchins, and many species of coral
Loss of natural shoreline vegetation reduces water quality by removing the shoreline’s ability to filter excess nutrients from runoff
June 8, 2020 - 11:41am
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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.