Coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Sea-level rise and heavy storms can result in erosion and flooding of these sensitive areas as well as loss of natural habitat.
During the 20th century, global sea level rose by roughly 7 inches. Global temperatures are expected to continue to climb, resulting in:
- rising sea levels,
- amplified storm surges,
- greater frequency and intensity of storms.
Such changes are expected to continue to erode shorelines and damage property and infrastructure, potentially resulting in population displacement. This animation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows how storms impact coasts and how green infrastructure can help.
A green infrastructure approach to coastal improvement—a "living shoreline"—can be created using plants, reefs, sand, and natural barriers to reduce erosion and flooding while maintaining natural shoreline processes. It also can lessen the associated impacts on human health and property. Restoring affected wetlands can reduce wave heights and property damage by buffering the velocity and intensity of waves. In contrast to hard structures such as bulkheads and sea walls, vegetative shorelines provide multiple ecosystem benefits, including improved water quality, aquatic habitat, and carbon sequestration. Visit here to learn more about EPA's Coastal Wetlands Initiative.
On this page:
This page contains technical information and references for state and local government officials working in the field of stormwater and/or coastal management.
Living shorelines can be a mixture of structural and organic materials, including:
- native wetland plants,
- stone and rock structures,
- oyster reefs,
- mussel beds,
- submerged aquatic vegetation,
- coir fiber logs, and
- sand fill.
These practices can restore coastal shorelines to a more natural condition. Green infrastructure also can be used in combination with gray infrastructure, such as sea walls and jetties.
Communities can launch coastal improvement projects by using living shorelines and hosting a meeting to begin the process of establishing your site-specific needs. Include leaders in your state or regional area who are concerned with the environmental needs of your community.
Once you have established your site-specific needs, conduct a site assessment. This process should include determining the:
- type of shoreline (slope of bank),
- height and shape of the bank,
- rate at which the shoreline is eroding,
- available landward space for marsh migration,
- level of wave or wind energy in the area,
- tidal ranges and currents,
- evidence of existing vegetation,
- water depth, type of substrate, and salinity of the water body, and
- existing structures.
Additional factors should be considered in terms off cost and applicability:
- the complexity of design,
- the need for expertise and labor,
- the accessibility of the site, and
- the amount of maintenance that will be required.
Compendium of Federal Nature-Based Resources for Coastal Communities, States, Tribes, and Territories (pdf) — A collection of federal resources and guidance on coastal green infrastructure, nature-based solutions and habitat restoration that are available to assist with evaluating, enabling and investing in nature-based adaptation strategies.
Living Shorelines Academy — A one-stop shop for Living Shorelines resources. Resources on the website include a project database, videos, publications, and training modules for property owners and design and construction professionals. There is also a forum to ask questions and a professional directory to find contacts.
The Center for Inland Bays and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary with EPA funding held a 2-day living shorelines training that educated marine contractors, engineers, and consultants, as well as nonprofit and government employees, on proper design and construction methods of living shorelines. Funding also supported living shoreline demonstration sites to illustrate key points and techniques.
NOAA Habitat Blueprint Living Shorelines — Building on existing programs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the NOAA Habitat Blueprint program applies a framework to protect and restore coastal resources through designated habitat focus areas. The site includes infographics and a map of more than 120 living shoreline demonstration projects.
NOAA Office of Coastal Management —Programs and resources from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for protecting and enhancing coastal resources.
NOAA Adapting Stormwater Management for Coastal Floods Tool — Website with tools for calculating stormwater impacts on coastal flooding.
Naturally Resilient Communities— A database of nature-based solutions for flooding and erosion. Case studies, funding information, and additional resources are also included.
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) research and technical assistance that will enable transportation agencies to use natural and nature-based features to improve the resilience of transportation systems. FHWA sponsored five pilot projects to assess the potential for nature-based techniques to protect specific locations along coastal roads and bridges. FHWA is also developing a white paper, regional peer exchanges, and an implementation guide.
Sea Grant Climate Adaptation Resources —A list of adaptation resources on the website of Pennsylvania Sea Grant, a partnership between Penn State University, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) Tools Network —The EBM Tools Network is an alliance of EBM tool users, providers, and researchers that promotes the use and development of EBM in coastal and marine environments and watersheds that affect them. The network hosts the EBM Tools Database, which enables users to find, share, and contribute information about decision-support tools; projects and resources for innovative, interdisciplinary coastal-marine spatial planning; and EBM.
Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse —The clearinghouse serves as a resource to all states, assisting state policymakers, resource managers, academics, and others working to help communities adapt to climate change.
Temperate Adaptation Planner —ICLEI partnered with Azavea Inc to offer a tool to guide local government users through the Five Milestones for Climate Adaptation planning.
Coastal Resilience Program —The Nature Conservancy's program provides information to communities, planners, businesses, and policy makers to help them address sea-level rise and coastal hazards in their decision-making.
Digital Coast —A website sponsored by the National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in collaboration with organizations committed to providing data and information, tools, and training resources to help address timely coastal issues (e.g., land use, coastal conservation, hazards, marine spatial planning).
Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use —This page on the Adaptation Clearinghouse website describes the tool kit, which explores 18 different land-use tools for responding to threats posed by sea-level rise to both public and private coastal development and infrastructure. The toolkit also provides policymakers with a framework for decision making.
Green Shores for Homes—This program is a voluntary, incentive based program similar to green building rating programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). A residential shoreline project receives points for design feature from four categories of credits.
Engineering with Nature—This program within the U.S. Army Corps, works towards aligning natural processes with engineering processes. The EWN website provides a host of tools, project case studies, publications, and presentations.
Living Shorelines Publications — Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium
EPA’s Climate Change in Coastal Communities Resources.
Leatherman, S. P., K. Zhang, and B. C. Douglas. 2000. Sea-level rise shown to drive coastal erosion. Eos, Tranactions, American Geophysical Union 81(6):55–57 .
Gedan, K.B., M. L. Kirwan, E. Wolanski, E.B. Barbier, and B. R. Silliman. 2011. The present and future role of coastal wetland vegetation in protecting shorelines: Answering recent challenges to the paradigm. Climatic Change 106:7-29.