Studying the impacts and tradeoffs of structural and natural methods in protecting coastal communities and habitats
Sea coasts are particularly vulnerable to mounting threats from sea level rise, severe storms, and changing weather patterns, and increasingly require intervention to reduce associated impacts. Traditional methods of protecting shorelines have largely been structural, including concrete and steel seawalls, bulkheads, and revetments. While these "gray" methods are effective at preventing damage to shoreline properties from waves and flooding in high-energy environments, they can also increase the rate of local erosion and have detrimental impacts to sensitive coastal habitats. They may not provide the best long-term solution for a coastal community.
Increasingly, researchers, land managers, and regulators are turning to natural methods, or "living shorelines," which provide ecological benefits in addition to flood and erosion protection. Using vegetation, sand, oyster reefs, rock sills, and other natural materials, living shorelines can achieve multiple goals in addition to shoreline stabilization, including creating habitat for wildlife, improving water quality, and filtering storm runoff. While the benefits stand to be significant, work remains to provide private and public landowners with locally relevant information and tools to make decisions about whether to pursue an approach that includes these methods.
Understanding the impacts and tradeoffs of shoreline stabilization, including which factors communities need to consider when adopting such measures, is a priority need for the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. As a result, Science Collaborative project teams are testing and assessing structural, natural, and hybrid techniques along coastlines nationwide, as well as informing and providing tools for the development of living shorelines at the municipal, state, and regional levels.
To learn more about specific projects and research products in this focus area, follow the links below.