Living Shoreline, can it work for you?

Roadmap to Deciding if a Living Shoreline is Suited for your Property

The following questions and answers are designed to help shoreline property owners who are seeking alternatives to protect their eroding shoreline.  Use of a LSL design is an opportunity to create or enhance fish and wildlife habitat while at the same time protecting shoreline property.
Fetch –the distance traveled by wind or waves across open water before impacting the shoreline – is perhaps the most important factor to consider because it largely defines the amount of wave energy the shoreline experiences.  Longer fetch means more wave energy.  LSLs are most suitable for shorelines that experience low-to-medium wave energy.

Insert Quick decision flowchart

(click the image to download .pdf):


Click on image to download the .pdf

Setting the Stage

Conduct a site assessment by collecting some information.  What is the fetch? What did the historic coastline look like 25 to 50 years ago?  Are there any resources available to provide that information? Has it changed? If so, in what way?

What is the bank elevation (the height of near shore land above sea level)? Which county do you live in (the landscape and soils change based on geology and location)? How long have you lived at this property?  Have you experienced a named storm coming ashore since living at this address?  Do you have any pictures documenting the site before and after? What type of water body is your property located on?  Which direction does your property face? How much of the shoreline in your immediate area is built up with homes and hardened shorelines? Do oysters live in the water along your shoreline or nearby?

If everything above indicates that your shoreline is stable with the natural vegetation along its length, you likely don’t need an LSL. If, however, shoreline protection is in order, you can move forward with the following questions.

  1. Does your shoreline suffer from erosion?
    1. Yes. What is the likely cause of this erosion — wind, strong currents, boat wakes, rain events, tropical storms, or a combination of several factors? Consider a “Do nothing” approach or continue to question 2.
    2. No. Do nothing or consider planting native emergent vegetation to stabilize or enhance the current shoreline and habitat. No permit is required if plantings are conducted above the Mean High Water Line (MHWL).
  2. Do your adjoining coastal property neighbors have a hardened seawall or bulk head?
    1. Yes. Is this a new structure?
      - Yes. Have you noticed an increase or decrease of erosion since this structure was built?
      - No.
    2. No, or only on one side of our property.
  3. Do you own the property (the upland area) to the water’s edge?
    1. Yes. The State of Florida is the owner of the submerged land seaward unless otherwise stated* in the official deed or by the property appraiser.
    2. No. By law, in order to receive authorization and permits to install a living shoreline, the legal owners of the property above and below the MHWL must provide their consent.

    * Does your shoreline area contain a ‘Right of Way’? In Florida most coastal property belongs to the State of Florida. In some cases the City or County may have a legal right pf ownership. Some properties which have been in the same family for many generations actually have Spanish Land Grants, meaning the land under the adjacent water belongs to this family. Although rare, several of these properties still exist throughout the state. Where do I find out this type of information? Your County appraiser’s website!

  4. What is the linear footage (length) of the shoreline for your project? (This information can be obtained on the county appraiser’s website or the legal deed for your property.)
    1. 500′ or less; if including a reef must not be further than 10’ of MHWL, may apply for a General Permit (GP).
    2. 500′ or more, must apply for a Environmental Resource Permit (ERP).
  5. What if I have a seawall or bulk head that is failing and I want to replace it with a Living Shoreline, do I still need a permit? Yes, you will be required to apply for a permit. Whether the permit is for GP or ERP will depend upon the situation, but more than likely GP. The rules are strict when removing a seawall or bulkhead. Turbidity curtains should be used and no heavy equipment should ever be in the water.
  6. What agency do I contact to learn more about these permit(s)? Is there more than one, which should be contacted? How do I know if I have spoken to the correct agency? The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is responsible for issuing the permit, and is also responsible for contacting their federal counterpart, Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE).  Each Agency (state and federal) will notify any sister agencies that may require notification based on the information received. Projects within 10’ of the MHWL may not require as much time to process as those extending further offshore.
  7. How do I go about applying? Do I need to hire a contractor to facilitate this request and the issuing of the permit? How much does a permit cost and how long is it good for? The permit application can be filled out on-line by going to the following website: You can select verification of exemption if your property’s linear length is 500’ or less and, if using a breakwater, the inside is no more than 10’ from the mean high waterline. There are several steps involved with installing a living shoreline, and while the ambitious property owner can install one themselves, it is usually best if some participants have some experience. The permit costs vary; a General Permit costs $250 and is good for 5 years. In the event of a hurricane, the homeowner would be within their rights (if they had a permit within the past 5 years) to rebuild (if necessary) within the same footprint.
    The Environmental Resource Permit cost is dependent on the size of the project, and the magnitude of the effort. The installation of an oyster reef serves as a breakwater, and is followed up with planting for shoreline stabilization. The ERP is also good for 5 years, and may cost from $500 up to $10,000, again depending on the site specific conditions.
  8. Do I have to notify my neighbors along the shoreline if I intend to install a living shoreline? Yes, it is potentially beneficial to your neighbors to have a living shoreline adjacent to their property. But make note, there is a riparian set back rule that indicates you cannot build a living shoreline within 25’ of your neighbors riparian zone without their permission in writing. In addition, a living shoreline cannot be constructed within 3’ of submerged sea grasses.
  9. What kind of Living Shoreline is best for my property and scenario? One size does not fit all, and each property is unique. Living Shoreline specialists working with the FDEP can schedule an appointment to determine if your site meets the qualifications and if a breakwater will be required. These specialists will consider the site assessment questions at the beginning of this informational handout. During this informal meeting, a determination of what is best suited for the property will be discussed, and any issues and concerns that you, as a property owner may have, can be answered during this time. In addition, a pre-application meeting will help those individuals processing the permit to insure that the best protection for the property is being pursued.