NBS Guidance

Living Shorelines in New England: State of the Practice

About This Guide

Woods Hole Group. (2017). Living Shorelines in New England: State of the Practice. The Nature Conservancy.

Increasing erosion and inundation of coastal wetlands across New England due to sea-level
rise and storms threatens property and valuable natural resources. Historic practices of
hard revetments and seawalls have limited effectiveness and may exacerbate erosion,
destroy intertidal habitat, and alter sediment transport patterns. For these reasons, hard
structural solutions are not permitted in many environmentally-sensitive coastal areas.
In the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico states, there have been a number of applications
of nature-based restorative approaches that include some combination of biotic natural
media like oyster shell, natural fiber, marsh and native vegetation plantings, and the use of
large sand envelopes or stone, sometimes seeded with live shellfish. These installations
are designed to protect property and prevent erosion while improving habitat, water quality,
and ecological condition in a way that appears natural and is consistent with the character
of coastal communities and uses of the shore.

While these “living shoreline” practices are relatively new to the northeast, and
practitioners have had limited experience in New England, the Coastal Zone Management
Agencies of the five New England coastal states and the Northeast Regional Ocean Council
(NROC) partnered with The Nature Conservancy under a grant from the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct an assessment of the State of The
Practice on Living Shorelines and provide considerations for their application along the
coast of New England.

For purposes of this assessment, the term living shoreline, refers to a set of coastal erosion
control practices, ranging from non-structural vegetated approaches to hybrid hard
structural/restorative natural methods, that address erosion and inundation in a manner that
improves or protects the ecological condition of the coastline. Living shorelines are a
coastal subset of a larger group of green infrastructure practices, which include a greater
range of nature-based techniques for inland areas that address storm water control, nutrient
retention, and habitat enhancement in place of hard infrastructure.

This report provides a range of practical considerations for property managers, regulators,
coastal municipal leaders, scientists and practitioners, who are interested in advancing
living shoreline policies and practices. The living shoreline profiles provide an overview
of the techniques, conceptual designs, case studies, siting characteristics and design
considerations and regulatory and review agencies that oversee the designs. Additionally,
an applicability index has been developed for common living shoreline types in New
England. It is intended to serve as a guide for the development of regulations and policies
to explicitly incorporate these approaches into the coastal management programs of the
respective states and New England’s coastal communities.