Living shorelines: the basics

Shoreline stabilization techniques from green-to-gray

Natural and Structural Measures for Shoreline Stabilization, developed by SAGE (Systems Approach to Geomorphic Engineering), NOAA, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This tri-fold brochure presents a continuum of shoreline management techniques from “green to gray,” from natural and soft to hard, and describes suitability, materials, general costs, benefits, and disadvantages of each.


Living Shorelines Academy – your digital one-stop-shop resource for all things LSL


NOAA Guidance for Considering the Use of Living Shorelines Report – Guiding Principles

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s guiding principles for living shorelines, including physical, ecological, and policy considerations.


Virginia Institute of Marine Science Center for Coastal Resources Management website

VIMS was an early advocate for living shorelines and continues to be a primary source of LSL information not only for the Chesapeake Bay, but well beyond to other estuaries.


NOAA Restoration Center – Living Shoreline Planning and Implementation

A description of living shoreline components and considerations from water to land across various habitat zones.


Rapid Assessment Protocols for Nature-Based Shorelines

The Rapid Assessment Protocol Manual and worksheets provide simple steps to quickly measure the condition of your living shoreline.


Softening Our Shorelines – Policy and practice for living shorelines along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts

Reported by the National Wildlife Federation and Coastal States Organization that reviews living shoreline policies, permitting requirements, barriers, and solutions in Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.

Glossary of Terms

Frequently Used Terms

Accretion – The gradual accumulation of sediment. [isn’t necessarily additional]

Armoring – The construction of vertical structures (e.g. bulkheads and seawalls) for shoreline protection (Living Shorelines: a technical guide for contractors in Alabama and Mississippi).

Best management practices – A set of practices that are determined to be an effective and practicable means of achieving the desired goals or standards.

Biolog – See Coir log.

Boat wake – The waves created by a boat as it moves through the water.

Brackish water – A mixture of fresh water and saltwater, forming slightly salty conditions often found in estuaries. [fresh water isn’t necessarily river water; brackish water can be mostly salty]

Breakwater – A structure made of rock, concrete, wood, oysters, or other material placed offshore to reduce the intensity of waves along the shoreline.

Bulkhead – A vertical structure made of wood, steel, or vinyl constructed along the edge of a shoreline for protection.

Coir logs – Logs of varying sizes made mostly of coconut fibers, used to stabilize the toe of marshes and banks. Coir logs serve as a small wave barrier, and degrade over 3-5 years. Also called “Biologs”.

Erosion – The transport of sand, soil, or natural materials along the shoreline. [not necessarily by natural forces, eg, boat wakes]

Estuary – A partially closed body of water where a freshwater source (e.g. river, stream) mixes with relatively salty water, creating brackish conditions. Estuaries are often tidally influenced and provide a transition zone between freshwater and saltwater.

Fetch – The distance traveled by winds or waves across open water.

Groin – In coastal engineering, a structure built perpendicular from a beach to reduce erosion or accumulate sediment that is being transported along the coast.

Habitat – The place or environment where an animal, plant, or other organism naturally lives and grows.

Intertidal zone – The area between mean high water and mean low water.

Living Shoreline – A shoreline management practice that provides erosion control benefits; protects, restores, or enhances natural shoreline habitat; and maintains coastal process through the strategic placement of plants, stone, sand fill, and other structural organic materials (

Mean high water – The average highest daily level of the tide over time.

Mean low water – The average lowest daily level of the tide over time.

Redeemed seawall – An existing seawall structure that has living shoreline components added on the waterward side, such as rip rap, terraces, and vegetation, to provide habitat and wave attenuation.

Resilience – The capacity to recovery quickly from disruption; the ability to stay intact and maintain function following adverse conditions.

Retaining wall – A rigid structure that holds back soil along a slope. A retaining wall is different from a seawall in the fact that it typically has dry soil on both sides and does not get inundated by the tide.

Revetment – A sloping structure along the shoreline made of rip rap, concrete blocks, or rubble.

Rip rap – Loose rocks or boulders placed along a shoreline to absorb wave energy and reduce erosion.

Riparian – The transition area between land and water.

Runoff – The draining of water over the ground. In Florida, this often refers to excess stormwater as it drains to nearby waterways.

Salinity – The saltiness of water.

Seawall – A hardened structure, usually vertical, built along the coast to protect the land from wave and tidal action.

Sediment – Natural material such as sand or silt that settles at the bottom of a water body.

Sill – A barrier constructed parallel along the base of the shoreline, often made of rock or oyster shell, that extends from above mean high water into the intertidal zone and protects the shoreline from wave energy.

Storm surge – A temporary rise in sea level due to the action of wind stress on the water surface and low atmospheric pressure created during storms which can cause coastal flooding (

Storm water – Water that drains downhill when it rains.

Submerged lands – Land that is below the mean high water line.

Tidal range – The vertical difference between high and low tide (

Turbidity – The cloudiness of water, often caused by suspended solid matter such as sediments, organic material, or plankton.

Upland – Dry habitat along the edge of a waterway that does not receive regular flooding.

Wave attenuation – A reduction in size and/or strength of waves.

Wave energy – The force a wave is likely to have on a shoreline. Wave energy can depend on environmental factors like shore orientation, wind, channel width, and water depth (

Wetland – An ecosystem that is seasonally or permanently inundated with water, and contains aquatic plants. Wetlands are typically highly diverse ecosystems, and provide flood control, water filtration, shoreline protection, and wildlife habitat.

Florida living shorelines

Shoreline Resilience in Southeast Florida: Story Map

A new interactive story map shows how Southeast Florida is building shoreline resilience as climate change and its effects on the region are becoming increasingly evident.


Living Shoreline Monitoring — How do I evaluate the environmental benefits of my living shoreline?

The goal of this publication is to provide homeowners, land managers, and Extension agents methods to measure the ecosystem functions of their living shoreline.


Waterfront Property Owners Guide

Produced by Florida Department of Environmental Protection.


Guidance for Living Shorelines in the Sarasota Bay Watershed

Prepared for June 2018 Sarasota Bay Estuary Program


Living Shorelines: Natural Protection of Florida’s Coasts

Florida Department of Environmental Protection – Northwest District


Port Orange Shoreline Habitat Restoration and Management Plan

Adopted by the City of Port Orange, Volusia County, in 2009 to encourage living shorelines as a method to stabilize coastal properties while maintaining natural coastal processes and resources.


Saving our Shorelines – How Northwest Florida Homeowners Can Help

Northwest Florida Water Management District, content by F. Eidse. 2007. Public Information Bulletin 07-02.


A Living Shoreline Initiative for the Florida Panhandle:  Taking a Softer Approach.

Ray-Culp, M. 2007. National Wetlands Newsletter 29:6.


Florida Master Naturalist Program – Coastal Module

An adult education UF/IFAS Extension program developed by the University of Florida for persons interested in learning more about Florida’s coastal environment.


Florida Master Naturalist Program – Coastal Shoreline Restoration

This Special Topics course provides training in the restoration of living shorelines, oyster reefs, mangroves, and marsh, with focus on ecology, benefits, methods, and monitoring techniques.


Tampa Bay Living Shoreline Suitability Model Results web map

This interactive web map is intended for managers and property owners to explore the results of the suitability model for planning purposes. It allows users to zoom to regions of interest and review the model’s suggested Best Management Practices (BMP) as well as create summary reports.


Tampa Bay Living Shoreline Suitability Model educational story map

This online resource describes what living shorelines are, why they’re important, the suitability model, Best Management Practices for living shorelines, and the results for the region.


Living Shoreline – Cedar Key

The Gulf of Mexico Climate and Resilience Community of Practice, funded the City of Cedar Key and the University of Florida to apply the Living Shoreline Suitability Model (LSSM) to the coastal areas of Cedar Key, FL.


Resilient Shorelines Brochure – Broward County

Guiding diagrams, layouts, and cost estimates for seawall replacement alternatives.

Florida Native Plant Society

Local FNPS chapters can assist homeowners with selecting plants appropriate for their climate zone, elevation, salinity tolerance, and desired aesthetics.


Florida Master Gardener

Resources for plant identification, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, and contact information for local extension offices.


Regional Living Shoreline Plant Guide

Regulatory and permitting – US Army Corps of Engineers

A Homeowner’s Guide to the Living Shoreline Permit Exemption: United States Army Corps of Engineers


USACE Nationwide Permit 54 – Living Shorelines


USACE Nationwide Permit 13 – Bank Stabilization


USACE Nationwide Permit 27 – Aquatic Habitat Restoration, Establishment and Enhancement Activities


US Army Corps of Engineers Issuance and Reissuance of Nationwide Permits Final Rule, 33 CFR Chapter II, Vol 82 #4, 2017

In an effort to streamline permitting, the US Army Corps of Engineers has approved over 50 nationwide permits that cover a range of activities that will “result in no more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects”. Many proposed Living Shorelines projects are covered under these conditions, especially Nationwide Permit 54 which is focused on living shoreline construction. Explore the conditions below to see if your project applies to one of the Nationwide Permit options.

Living shoreline research

NOAA Green Infrastructure Effectiveness Database

Database of living shorelines publications searchable by keywords such as materials used, location, author, and more.


NOAA National Estuarine Research Reserve System Living Shorelines Webinar Series


 Summary of Living Shoreline Research to Inform Regulatory Decision-Making in South Carolina

Living shorelines – the science and management of nature-based coastal protection, 2017 for sale.

Bilkovic, D.M., M.M. Mitchell, M.K. La Peyre, J.D. Toft. 2017. Living shorelines – the science and management of nature-based coastal protection. CRC Press.


Ecological consequences of shoreline hardening: A meta-analysis, 2016

Gittman, R.K., S.B. Scyphers, C.S. Smith, I.P. Neylan, J.H. Grabowski. 2016. Ecological consequences of shoreline hardening: A meta-analysis. BioScience (2016) 66 (9): 763-773.

The authors conclude that “Seawalls supported 23% lower biodiversity and 45% fewer organisms than natural shorelines.”


Wave attenuation over coastal salt marshes under storm surge conditions, 2014

Manis, J.E., S.K. Garvis, S.M. Jachec and L.J. Walters. 2015. Wave attenuation experiments over living shorelines over time: a wave tank study to assess recreational boating pressures. Journal of Coastal Conservation 19(1), p. 1-11.


Nature-based coastal defenses in southeast Florida, 2014

Produced by The Nature Conservancy.


2013 Mid-Atlantic Living Shorelines Summit proceedings and presentations


Rethinking Living shorelines, 2012.

Pilkey, O.H., N. Longo, R. Young, and A. Coburn. 2012. Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University.


Living shorelines: Impacts of erosion control strategies on coastal habitats, 2010

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Habitat Management Series #10.


Effects of coastal development on nearshore estuarine nekton communities, 2008

Bilkovic. D.M. and M.M. Roggero. 2008. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Vol. 358: 27-39.


Mitigating shore erosion along sheltered coasts, 2007.

National Research Council. 2007. Mitigating shore erosion along sheltered coasts. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

This report by the National Research Council is the first major assessment of erosion and armoring on sheltered coastlines, as opposed to high-energy beaches. It highlights the consequences of cumulative loss of many small parcels of shoreline habitat. Each one of those individual property owners who hardens their bit of shoreline is a domino contributing to negative impacts. Available for free download.


The importance of habitat created by molluscan shellfish to managed species along the Atlantic coast of the United States, 2007.

Coen, L.D. and R.E. Grizzle. 2007. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Habitat Management Series #8.


Management, policy, science and engineering of nonstructural erosion control in the Chesapeake Bay.

Proceedings of the 2006 Living Shoreline Summit. CRC Publ. No. 08-164, Gloucester Point, VA. 136pp.


The tide doesn’t go out anymore – the effect of bulkheads on urban bay shorelines, 1999

This paper by Scott Douglass and Brad Pickel is an important milestone in LSL history. It reports that 30% of Mobile Bay had been armored by 1997, and draws attention to the impacts of shoreline hardening.


Coastal armoring: effects, principles and mitigation, 1986

Dean, R.G. 1986. Coastal armoring: effects, principles and mitigation. Coastal Engineering Proceedings No. 20 (1986).

Oyster Restoration Workgroup website, including guidance on design and monitoring, funding opportunities, and the latest shellfish research.

Sea level rise, climate change and blue carbon
Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century, 2017 

Gabler, C.A., M.J. Osland, J.B. Grace, C.L. Stagg, R.H. Day, et al. 2017. Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century. Nature Climate Change 7, 142-147.


Living shorelines: coastal resilience with a blue carbon benefit, 2015

Davis, J.L., C.A. Currin, C. O’Brien, C. Raffenburg, A. Davis. 2015. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0142595.


Restore-Adapt-Mitigate: Responding to climate change through coastal habitat restoration, 2012

Produced by Restore America’s Estuaries


Preparing for climate changes with living shorelines, webinar

Produced by Georgetown Climate Center.