Living Shorelines

A living shoreline is a method of shoreline stabilization and protection for wetlands that is built using natural materials and native plants. They are a habitat friendly alternative to rip rap, bulkhead or stone revetments.

Living shorelines provide a multitude of benefits to property owners and to the environment.

They filter pollutants from water to improve water quality.

They absorb storm energy and protect property while reducing the potential for shoreline erosion issues.

They connect animals to their critical nursery areas and increase the number and types of fish and wildlife.

And they allow for natural sand and soil movement.

DNREC is part of the Delaware Living Shoreline Committee, a working group dedicated to facilitating the understanding, peer review and implementation of living shoreline tactics within the State of Delaware.

Protect Your Property, Naturally

A living shoreline mimics natural shoreline habitats by incorporating a combination of wetland plants, biodegradable coconut-fiber coir logs, fiber matting, oyster shell bags, and live mussels and/or oysters.

Living shorelines create wetland habitat that is important for blue crabs, oysters, fish, birds and plants.

They can also stop erosion, increase water quality, armor the shoreline from erosion and defend our coasts from damaging storm wave energy.

The DNREC Division of Watershed Stewardship provides cost share assistance for installing living shorelines and stabilization projects.

Graphic comparing an eroding shoreline to a shoreline protected by "living shoreline" techniques.

Soft is Better Than Hard in Shorelines

Living shorelines are referred to as a type of “soft” infrastructure because they can adapt to a changing environment while also being strong.

graphic comparing a soft shoreline, with more natural diversity, to a hardened shoreline, with less.

“Hard” infrastructures, such as bulkheads or retaining walls, cannot change depending on the season, weather or other conditions.

Instead of an abrupt drop-off from land to water, living shorelines create a gentler slope which connects plants and animals to the water. The softer materials are also able to absorb wave energy and reduce flooding during hurricanes and storms.

Hard structures deflect strong wave energy, causing below water scouring, structural damage, and even shoreline erosion downstream.

Types of Living Shorelines

There are different options for living shoreline projects. The right option, and design for a project, is determined by the conditions specific to the shoreline in question:

  • The location
  • The presence of fresh or salt water
  • Wave energy
  • Local currents
  • wind speeds

Low energy sites use non-structural designs where only a small amount of erosion and wave action occurs. These projects include the use of natural materials and can involve grading banks, managing vegetation, installing biologs and planting marshes.

Indian River Living Shoreline, a Low Energy Design

Medium energy sites use hybrid designs where shoreline erosion and wave action are a bit more intense and natural materials are not enough to prevent erosion. These projects combine the “soft” natural materials found in non-structural designs with “hardened” structures such as marsh sills or toes and oyster castles.

High energy sites use structural designs where the shoreline has severe erosion and high wave action. These projects may use “hardened” structures such as breakwaters in addition to “soft” materials to lessen the impact of wave energy entering the site.  Breakwaters by themselves are not considered a living shoreline tactic.

Living shorelines can naturally adjust to changing environmental conditions, but do need periodic maintenance.