Hardened vs. Soft Shorelines

Shoreline hardening such as seawalls and bulkheads interrupt natural shoreline processes, reduces nursery habitat for marine species and foraging habitat for wading birds, degrades water quality, and can actually increase erosion processes.
A developed shoreline

A series of hardened shorelines in South Florida eliminates coastal habitat for wildlife. Many animals use the transition area between the water and land to find food, rest, and build nests.


  • Turn the gradually sloping profile into a right-angle bathtub effect with limited habitat potential.
  • Can increase erosion on adjacent property beyond both ends of seawall.
  • Are often the shoreline protection option selected to “hold-the-line”.
  • Create an abrupt transition from deep water to dry land that eliminates the inter-tidal zone where many marine and estuarine species live.
  • Do not provide any filtration of runoff as it transitions from the land into the estuary.

Seawalls are an example of a ‘hardened’ shoreline, and do not provide ecological benefits or allow natural access between the land and the water.

The beauty of a ‘soft’ approach: a natural shoreline at Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Photo credit: Melody Ray-Culp, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Natural shorelines, already performing their natural functions without any help from us, should not be replaced with construction projects. Shorelines are naturally dynamic environments, and “do nothing” is the first option to be considered when faced with an eroding shoreline. However, most folks are seeking solutions to the loss of their property in the face of erosion, so “do-nothing” is not an option. Sea level rise compounds erosion problems by changing the location of the coast line and exposing new areas to erosion.

LSLs offer the most environmentally friendly options for doing something.

Keep Exploring!