Understanding Living Shorelines
Living shorelines connect the land and water to stabilize shorelines, reduce erosion, and provide valuable habitat that enhances coastal resilience.
What is a living shoreline?
A living shoreline is a protected, stabilized coastal edge made of natural materials such as plants, sand, or rock. Unlike a concrete seawall or other hard structure, which impede the growth of plants and animals, living shorelines grow over time.
Natural infrastructure solutions like living shorelines provide wildlife habitat, as well as natural resilience to communities near the waterfront. Living shorelines are sometimes referred to as nature-based, green, or soft shorelines. They are an innovative and cost-effective technique for coastal management.
Where can I see living shorelines?
Living shorelines may replace aging structures, such as an old dock or boat launch. Bays, rivers, and homes on the waterfront are good candidates for this shoreline stabilization technique. Typically, living shorelines are not found on beaches on the open ocean.
To visualize a living shoreline, look at these examples, or visit the national map to find a project near you.
What are the main benefits of living shorelines?
Living shorelines are both beautiful and practical. They add attractive, low-maintenance green space and focal points for people to gather. Their services to the environment—which also benefit people—include purifying water, buffering floods, reducing erosion, storing carbon, and attracting wildlife to habitat.
Evidence shows that during major storms, a living, natural shoreline performs better than a hardened shoreline. People (and animals) who enjoy fishing will appreciate how it supports fish and other creatures.
How much do living shorelines cost?
Living shorelines tend to cost less than hard shorelines, according to Natural and Structural Measures for Shoreline Stabilization, for both installation and maintenance. Installation fees vary from less than $1,000 to $5,000 per linear foot. Maintenance of living shorelines typically costs less than $100 per linear foot annually.
Consult the brochure for factors that influence cost, and for additional resources.
Who can help me create a living shoreline?
Almost anyone can install some of the simpler techniques of living shorelines. Larger and more complex projects may require the expertise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
For all projects, consider consulting with a professional who understands permits and approvals, and how to restore local habitats.
View useful resources related to living shorelines, including NOAA's Guidance for Considering the Use of Living Shorelines (PDF, 36 pages).
What are the steps to create a living shoreline?
For living shorelines, consider the permits and approvals involved and the appropriate type of restoration for the habitat. Here are the main steps involved in planning and implantation.
- Site analysis: The first step is to determine whether living shoreline stabilization is appropriate in a particular area. This analysis includes an evaluation of the bank erosion rate and elevation, wave energy, prevailing wind and wave direction, vegetation, and soil type. Design of restoration activity begins after the site analysis.
- Permit approval and legal compliance: Compliance with all federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and permits for proposed restoration activities must be ensured prior to implementation.
- Site preparation: This begins after appropriate permits are obtained from regulatory agencies. The site is cleared of debris and unstable trees, and failing seawalls and bulkheads can be removed. Any runoff issues should also be identified and addressed prior to material installation.
- Installation: Typical living shoreline treatments include planting riparian, marsh, and submerged aquatic vegetation; installing organic materials such as bio-logs and organic fiber mats; and constructing oyster reefs or “living breakwaters” that dissipate wave energy before it reaches the shore.
- Post-construction monitoring and maintenance: This includes scientific monitoring of restored habitat to gather information on the success of the project. Maintenance activities include debris removal, replanting vegetation, adding additional sand fill, and ensuring that the organic and structural materials remain in place and continue to stabilize the shoreline.
Learn more about the Tools for Planning a living shoreline.
Coastal Shoreline Continuum and Typical Living Shorelines Treatments