Understand how living shorelines help eroding coasts

Learn about how living shorelines are created and how they decrease flood risk. 

Living shorelines are created using shoreline stabilization techniques that use vegetation to slow down wave action. Native wetland plants, natural structures and shellfish are installed in an effort to trap sediment and absorb waves. This type of green infrastructure project helps to stabilize eroding shorelines to support adjacent land, which ultimately helps to alleviate nearby flooding.

Creation and use

In order to build a living shoreline, the site for the project needs to be analyzed and necessary permits need to be acquired. The site needs to be evaluated for bank erosion and elevation, vegetation, soil type, wave energy, and wind and wave direction so that the shoreline can be stabilized as necessary and appropriate vegetation can be used. Proposed shoreline restoration must be in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations. Once necessary permits are obtained, the site can be cleared of any failing hard infrastructure such as bulkheads and seawalls and of debris. 

Construction of living shorelines usually involves planting riparian, marsh, or submerged aquatic vegetation as well as installing organic materials such as bio-logs, organic fiber mats and oyster reefs to act as living breakwaters that work to dissipate wave action. Once the living shoreline is in place, it must be monitored and maintained. Scientific monitoring of the project will allow for proof of success of the living shoreline. Maintenance of organic and structural materials, removal of debris, and replanting vegetation all ensure the longevity of the living shoreline.

Example of living shorelines

The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences and AdaptVA compiled a list of living shoreline project stories throughout the coast of Virginia. Some projects highlighted include Hermitage Museum & Gardens Oyster Reef and Living Shoreline, Virginia Zoo Living Shoreline and Oyster Reef, and the Haven Creek Wetland Restoration and Walking Path. 

Living_Shoreline.jpgCredit: Hermitage Museum and Gardens Oyster Reef and Living Shoreline

20190508_131937.jpgVirginia Zoo Oyster Reef

The Hermitage Museum and Gardens Oyster Reef and Living Shoreline was created by building a marsh sill and an oyster reef, restoring the riparian buffer, and using sand fill and salt marsh planting. Not only does this project reduce erosion at a historic site and provide flood reduction, it also acts as a public demonstration of living shorelines for the community. The project created over an acre of wetlands and 300 feet of living shoreline. The funding partners on the project were NOAA Chesapeake Bay Trust Living Shoreline Grant Program, USFWS, Elizabeth River Project, and the City of Norfolk.

The Virginia Zoo Living Shoreline and Oyster Reef project removed debris, riprap and invasive species and replaced this with riparian buffer planting, salt marsh planting, and an oyster reef. This project cost $100,000 and was funded by Rotary Club of Norfolk, Restore America's Estuaries, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Small Watershed Grants. The Haven Creek Wetland Restoration and Walking Path project removed bulkheads and invasive phragmites and replaced them with a marsh sill, salt marsh planting and an oyster reef. This project was a $1.3 million investment by the city of Norfolk Department of Public Works and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. 


Learn more

Understanding living shorelines

Living shorelines: Marshes and oysters

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