Living Shorelines: The natural alternative
By BRAD RICH
Coastal Review Online
First of two parts
don’t have to get your feet wet or willingly serve as mosquito bait to
know that “living shorelines” -- the use of natural materials, such as
rocks, oyster shells and planted marsh grass to slow the erosion of the
banks of estuarine rivers and sounds – are rapidly gaining favor.
Google the phrase and you’ll turn up 1.4 million or so hits, with
articles detailing new or ongoing projects from Maine to Florida and
Seattle to San Francisco, and all along the Gulf of Mexico. Heck, one
article, on the DCMilitary.com web site, notes that even the U.S. Navy,
known more for blowing things up than for being warm, fuzzy and green,
is in on the action, recently completing a 17,100-foot project along
the Potomac River and Mattawoman Creek at its Indian Head installation
of organizations, from the N.C. Coastal Federation to the San Francisco
Bay Estuary Partnership, advocate the use of living shorelines and find
it relatively easy to round up volunteers -- from school kids on field
trips to retirees eager do good deeds and stay fit – to do the
backache-inducing work of planting marsh grass seedlings in conditions
that range from perfect to putrid. State fisheries divisions, including
North Carolina’s, support living shorelines, because the marshes they
protect provide habitat for juveniles of many marine species, and so
does the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
yet, in North Carolina, for the time being, it’s a lot easier to hire a
contractor to throw up a concrete wall along the shore than it is to
return oyster shells and marsh grass to their natural habitat. You can
get a state Coastal Area Management Act permit for a bulkhead – which
experts now acknowledge often cause as much erosion as they stop – in a
day or two through the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, but it will
take you much longer to get a permit to slow shoreline erosion by
working in concert with nature.
because the state agency offers a general permit for bulkheads, while
many, if not most, natural shoreline projects require a major
development permit. That requires reviews by several state and federal
of the problem, according to coastal management officials, is that it’s
been difficult to develop a streamlined permitting process when each
living shoreline project is unique, and so is each area for which each
project is planned.
we want to encourage living shorelines,” said Michelle Walker, the
public relations director for the state agency. “We’re working on it.”
April, Rachael Gittman, a graduate student at the University of North
Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City who has been
studying living shorelines, She made a presentation for Braxton Davis,
director of the coastal management division and the Coastal Resources
think they were receptive,” said Gittman. “I think they are trying to
educate the staff. I think things are changing. But I don’t know how
said that although the state generally compares well to others in
support for living shorelines, a serious effort to get better is
permitting timelines currently are at about 15 to 20 days for a CAMA
General Permit (an Army Corps permit is also required),” he said. “If
the project doesn’t meet our GP standards, it goes through our CAMA
Major Permit process, and that still has an average processing time of
a pretty long process, and while Davis said it’s consistent with
processing timelines in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, it’s not as
fast as he’d like.
hoping to speed it up a little more and/or make it a little more
straightforward by streamlining our marsh sills GP in the coming
months,” he said.
the years, marsh sills and other natural shoreline techniques “have not
been utilized as often as we would like to see,” Davis said. “What
we’ve done is form a committee to look at ways we can change that, and
the permitting time is a part of that. That committee is supposed to
report back to the Coastal Resources Commission (an appointed board
that sets policy for the division) during its meeting at the end of
major intent, Davis said, is to find a way to allow the permitting
process to be handled only by DCM staff, and not require reviews by the
fisheries and water quality divisions. Most people, after all, concur
that living shorelines are positives for fisheries and water quality,
especially compared to bulkheads.
From Gittman’s perspective, there’s ample reason for increased emphasis
on natural erosion control methods and a lessening of property owners’
traditional dependence on bulkheads.
recently revisited some projects in Pine Knoll Shores on Bogue Banks in
Carteret County and in the Hatteras area to view the effects after
Hurricane Irene, which struck the coast last August.
sill (usually lines of rocks, plus marsh grass) fared well,” she said
of those she examined. “And two of the bulkheads on adjacent sites
behind bulkheads suffered from severe scour and there were instances of
sinkholes. By contrast, while storm surge did top the rocks in the
sills, the area landward didn’t suffer nearly that degree of damage,
Shallcross, a Pine Knoll Shores property owner, worked with the N.C.
Coastal Federation and a private marine contractor, Mudbucket, several
years ago to put in a sill, composed of rocks and installed in a
formation that has openings to allow water in and out without going
over the rocks. His property, which he bought about 30 years ago, is
adjacent to Bogue Sound and is bracketed by properties that have
bulkheads, one concrete and one wooden.
the years, Shallcross has thought about putting up his own bulkhead,
but said the property is low and isn’t really suitable for a wall
because he’d have to bring in so much fill material to place behind it.
But he’s suffered significant erosion, losing many trees and plenty of
land, and believes part of the reason is that the bulkheads adjacent to
his property have heightened the wave energy that hits his land.
he decided he needed to do something, and chose a living shoreline. “We
wanted to try to do this the natural way,” he said.
said it hasn’t been cheap. He’s spent close to $15,000 – probably, he
said, about the same as the cost for a bulkhead – and still had
problems. Working with the federation, he’s planted marsh grass behind
the sill four times, only to see it fail to take hold the first three.
Irene, the storm surge from steady and strong northeast winds easily
topped the sill and washed out an estimated 8 to 10 feet of his bank.
But his property loss, he said, was far less severe and costly than
those of his neighbors, one of whom saw his entire bulkhead collapse.
the direction of coastal federation scientist Lexia Weaver, Shallcross
has planted more marsh grass, and this time it seems to be taking hold
and thriving. He also noted that the sill and the marsh grass seem to
have entirely halted the smaller-scale, day-to-day erosion he used to
see from the wakes of boats, many of which totally ignore the “no wake”
is also pleased that oysters have attached to his sill. The shellfish
help clean the water by filtering pollutants as they feed. And he’s
looking forward, at some point, to a meal.
bottom line, Shallcross said, is that he knows it takes time – some say
three to five years in many cases – before you can entirely judge
whether a natural shoreline project is a success.
situation is different,” he said. “What works for one piece of property
might not work for another. But we’re hopeful. It seems to be working;
sand is building up behind the sill. We’re going to stay with it."
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the N.C. coast at www.nccoast.org.)