Understanding the benefits of living shorelines

Preserving and maintaining the natural function of coastal shorelines provides habitat, improves water quality, offers storm protection, and enhances the scenic beauty of the region.

Bryan Fluech / Special to the Eagle

Preserving and maintaining the natural function of coastal shorelines provides habitat, improves water quality, offers storm protection, and enhances the scenic beauty of the region.

Living shorelines are a softer shoreline stabilization alternative than traditional seawalls and other armored structures.

Bryan Fluech / Special to the Eagle

Living shorelines are a softer shoreline stabilization alternative than traditional seawalls and other armored structures.

Seawalls can provide short-term solutions to erosion, but can be costly to repair and cause long-term damage to adjacent coastal environments.

Bryan Fluech / Special to the Eagle

Seawalls can provide short-term solutions to erosion, but can be costly to repair and cause long-term damage to adjacent coastal environments.

Increased coastal development and habitat destruction continually place pressure on our natural shorelines. As coastal residents it’s important to understand that shorelines are dynamic in nature and have been changing for millions of years.

Waves, winds, geology, water depth, sea level rise and climate all interact to contribute towards varying erosion and sedimentation rates along the coast. Low wave energy environments such as seagrass communities, oyster reefs, and mangroves provide essential habitat to many important commercial and recreational fish and shellfish species, filter pollutants, buffer against storms, and contribute towards the local and state economy through recreation and tourism opportunities. Preserving and maintaining the natural function of these systems not only benefit the diverse flora and fauna that reside there, but directly benefit human society as well.

Although a natural process, erosion can contribute towards the loss of residential and commercial property. Historically homeowners have resorted to using hardened structures such as sea walls, bulkheads, and revetments to mitigate the erosion process and prevent property loss. Marco Island, for instance has over 200 miles of seawalls in place. These structures can provide a short-term solution to erosion, but can cause longterm damage to adjacent coastal environments. The energy of incoming waves gets deflected off the often vertical hardened structure to nearby unprotected areas, and scours the bottom underneath the structure making the adjacent water body deeper and edge steeper. These events result in the reduced ability of nearby natural communities to function properly and detract from the coast’s natural beauty.

Property owners should be aware that other structural stabilization alternatives exist that might be more environmentally friendly, economical, and aesthetically pleasing. Each site will have specific environmental conditions such as varying wave and wind exposure and erosion rates that will dictate what type of stabilization technique should be used. For example, while seawalls may be a better alternative in a high wave energy environment, non-structural or softer, vegetated alternatives may prove to be more viable in a lower wave energy setting. Properties exposed to mid wave energy conditions may consider utilizing a hybrid option that incorporates both soft and hard methods. For examples, mangroves planted among rip rap along a property front may be a more efficient choice than either one of these options alone.

Several states including Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, and Florida are focusing more on alternative stabilization methods rather than traditional armoring to mitigate erosion, improve water quality, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat along the coast. An increasingly popular option has been termed “Living Shorelines.”

Living Shorelines use native coastal vegetation, oyster shells, earthen materials or a combination of natural structures with riprap or offshore breakwaters to protect property from erosion. They are best suited for low and mid-energy shorelines that experience minimum boat wake and where upland structures aren’t immediately adjacent to the shoreline. Living Shorelines provide a number of ecological services to the local community. They act as a natural buffer that helps absorb wave and wind energy while minimizing erosion rates. They create and/or enhance wildlife access to important habitats such as feeding and nesting sites for birds and fish nurseries. Roots of planted vegetation helps trap and filter harmful runoff entering coastal waters, thus improving local water quality. In addition, they can prove to be more economical to landowners than traditional seawalls or bulkheads when used in the appropriate setting.

Property owners interested in incorporating Living Shorelines methods into their water front should first consult with marine contractors and/or engineers to make sure these methods are suitable for their specific location. It is also useful for landowners to be aware of the permitting process and possible maintenance that is required for a Living Shoreline project. Before any construction can occur, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must be contacted to apply for the appropriate construction permits.

Workshop is June 3

The University of Florida Extension Service and Florida Sea Grant, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rookery Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance will host a Living Shorelines Workshop from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., June 3 at Rookery Bay.

The workshop will provide details about the benefits of living shorelines, associated costs, design considerations, permitting processes, and funding opportunities. The workshop is free, but space is limited and registration is required.

Contact Bryan Fluech, Collier County UF Sea Grant Extension Agent at (239) 417-6310, ext. 204, if you are interested.

To learn more about Living Shorelines visit: https://habitat.noaa.gov/restorationtechniques/public/shoreline_tab1.cfm.

For more information about the shoreline stabilization permitting process visit dep.state.fl.us/central/Home/SLERP/ShorelineStabilization/.

Bryan Fluech is the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Agent with the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service.

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