NOAA Encourages Living Shorelines

In a recent report, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) affirms the value of “living shorelines” to manage erosion along sheltered coasts. The study confirms that living shorelines, where appropriate, offer a viable and durable alternative to built infrastructure while conserving the natural habitat along estuarine coasts, bays, sheltered coastlines, and rivers.

Living shorelines use a range of natural stabilization techniques—commonly involving the strategic placement of plants, stone, sand, and other materials—to control erosion and restore or protect shoreline habitat. These features reduce erosion while maintaining the vital connection between land and water ecosystems.

NOAA’s Living Shorelines Guiding Principles

NOAA encourages:

  • Use of living shoreline techniques to provide, maintain, or improve habitat or ecosystem function and enhance coastal resilience.
  • Shoreline protection methodologies that avoid or minimize channel encroachment into subtidal habitat. NOAA does not promote the use of living shorelines as a means for land reclamation.
  • Shoreline stabilization using the softest approach feasible based on site conditions.
  • Careful consideration of regional and site-specific differences in factors such as wave energy, habitat types, and geologic setting in planning the appropriate living shorelines.
  • Early coordination across multiple government and nongovernmental entities to discuss site characteristics, history of erosion at a site, and potential challenges for proposed shoreline management approaches.
  • Incorporation of the best available regional and local shoreline science and practices into the siting, design, construction, evaluation and adaptive management of projects.
  • Consideration of ecosystem services provided by a shoreline stabilization approach (such as erosion control and habitat for fish and other living marine resources) in living shoreline project design.

To “armor” shorelines against erosion, sea level rise, and severe weather, property owners and commercial interests often build bulkheads and seawalls, which are traditionally viewed as protective and sturdy. However, such manmade structures “harden” the coastline and can increase erosion and eventually fail. Living shorelines, on the other hand, grow stronger over time as the plants and natural elements become more established.

NOAA’s support for living shorelines is welcome news, given the growing evidence of the negative impacts of shoreline hardening, such as loss of wetlands and natural habitats, on coastal areas.

A recent analysis of shoreline hardening—that is, the addition of built infrastructure—in the U.S. found that at least 14 percent, or about 14,000 miles, of the nation’s tidal shoreline is already hardened. Without intervention, this figure is expected to grow.

Shoreline infrastructure solutions are site-specific. However, as the options for nature-based solutions increase, communities should consider whether natural defenses, such as living shorelines, can reduce their risk of erosion or loss of habitat.

Laura Lightbody is a director at Pew.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies

Explore

Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.