Jockey's Ridge living shoreline © Sara Birkemeier

Living Shorelines

Our Goal: Keep Estuarine Shorelines Healthy & Productive

North Carolina’s 12,000 miles of estuarine shoreline provide some of the most productive habitats in the world for fish and shellfish.

Unfortunately, the erosion of these shorelines is increasing because of rising sea levels, concentrated waves from boats, more extreme storms, and poorly planned development practices. Erosion control structures like bulkheads are not as effective as living shorelines in protecting shorelines. By installing buffers using salt marshes, oyster reefs, and other natural materials, living shorelines control erosion while protecting the natural beauty and productivity of our estuaries.

The Coastal Federation remains committed to making living shorelines the go-to approach for managing shoreline erosion. We have secured public and private funding that will help us provide increased financial incentives to landowners for living shorelines.

Living shorelines offer an effective, natural way to address estuarine shoreline erosion.

Learn about the benefits to living shorelines.

FAQs

What are the benefits of living shorelines?

Living shorelines offer many benefits, including the following:

  • Provide food and shelter for many creatures.
  • Serve as critical nurseries for many important marine species.
  • Filter pollutants from stormwater runoff, the most significant water quality pollutant in North Carolina.
  • Protect the land from wave energy, storm surges and tides.
  • Provide aesthetic value, enhanced views, a sense of place and privacy.

Why living shorelines?

The Federation maintains that the best way to deal with erosion is to plan for it, to build as far as possible from the water’s edge, and to retreat when the time comes.

When that’s not possible, the Federation recommends using stabilization methods that maintain the natural integrity of the marsh and do the least damage to them. Living shorelines are one method of doing that.

Livings shorelines use as many natural elements as appropriate for the site to protect the shoreline from erosion. Specific materials include bags of oyster shells, native marsh grasses, wood, limestone, rip rap, or constructed ‘oyster domes’. They range from construction setbacks and simple plantings of marsh grass to more complex approaches that use the materials listed above or other structures to dampen wave energy.

No two shorelines are the same, and living shoreline strategies must be selected based on:

  • Existing land uses.
  • The amount of wave energy at the site.
  • Individual local conditions.

The Federation and many other organizations consider this method a better alternative than traditional bulkheads or walls. Bulkheads reflect the wave energy back along the shoreline, which worsens erosion. Living shorelines act as a natural buffer, absorbing the wave energy, minimizing shoreline erosion, and protecting the marsh.

The Federation has designed, constructed, and monitored dozens of living shoreline projects all over the coast. Several renowned scientists, such as Carolyn CurrinRachel Gittman, and Lexia Weaver, have assessed these living shorelines and, in summarythey work.

The habitat values, erosion control, and filter effects of living shorelines compare well with natural marsh and perform significantly better than bulkheads.

Learn how living shorelines outperform bulkheads during storms and cost less to repair.

What kinds of creatures live around living shorelines?

Check out the ones the federation has spotted around their living shorelines:

  • Blue crabs
  • Stone crabs
  • Mud crabs
  • Hermit crabs
  • Shrimp
  • Mussels
  • Fish! Mummichog, killifish, anchovies, silversides, mullets, pin fish and many more juveniles and adult species.
  • Starfish
  • Sea squirts
  • Slipper shells
  • Snails
  • Barnacles
  • Herons
  • Pelicans
  • Osprey
  • Skimmers
  • Terns

Interested in building a living shoreline on your property? Please send an email to livingshorelines@nccoast.org to receive more information. There is now cost-share funding available for those interested in building a living shoreline on your property.

Current Work

Our work to promote living shorelines is being advanced with a $2 million appropriation from N.C. General Assembly as well as other state and federal grants. With public and private funds, we will build over 3,000 feet of living shorelines on private properties.

By working with contractors, students, and community volunteers we’ll enhance at least 400 feet of existing living shoreline at Jockey’s Ridge State Park; build an additional 200 feet of living shoreline at Carteret County’s future boat ramp location in Ocean; construct 800 feet and design and permit another 845 feet of living shorelines along NC Hwy 24 in Cedar Point and Swansboro.

Jockey's Ridge living shoreline © Sara Birkemeier
Jockey’s Ridge living shoreline

We’ll also design, permit and begin the construction of 1,667 feet of living shoreline at MCAS Cherry Point and 2,408 feet of living shoreline at Fort Macon State Park. We plan to build 60 feet of living shoreline at Topsail Beach and begin construction of five acres of oyster, living shoreline, and salt marsh; and 13 acres of tidal creek and marsh at Carolina Beach State Park. In addition, we will secure funding and permits for 150 feet of demonstration living shoreline using oyster castles and OysterCatcher™ materials, and maintain 1,860 feet of existing living shoreline at Morris Landing.

We continue to test more environmentally acceptable materials for living shoreline construction, provide continuing education for public officials, contractors, and real estate professionals and work with researchers to increase public understanding of the value of living shorelines.

11,500

feet of living shorelines installed

74

living shoreline projects

35,582

wetland grasses planted

Featured Projects

Project summaries from the blog:

Surf City Living Shoreline © Alan Cradick
The Coastal Federation partnered with the Town of Surf City to install a 215-foot living shoreline designed and fabricated by Sandbar Oyster Company. This living shoreline is made from interlocking frames, together called the Oyster Catcher Substrate™ system, providing a tidal reef structure to optimize oyster growth. 
North Topsail Beach Living Shoreline
In 2022, the Coastal Federation partnered with North Topsail Beach to install a 175-foot living shoreline designed and fabricated by Sandbar Oyster Company.
Rocky Mount Ave. Living Shoreline
Town of Topsail Beach partners with North Carolina Coastal Federation on sound side living shoreline projects The Town of Topsail
Carteret Community College Shoreline Restoration and Stormwater Runoff Reduction
Along the shoreline at the Carteret Community College campus in Morehead City, a variety of living shoreline approaches were installed to demonstrate environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional shoreline stabilization methods.
Sunset Beach Living Shoreline
In 2019, the construction of a living shoreline, featuring 100 feet using an oyster dome sill and 60 feet of

Living Shorelines Academy

The Living Shorelines Academy was established to increase the abundance of coastal wetlands, advance the policy, science and practice of living shorelines, and enhance collaboration among governmental and private stakeholders. It is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is a product of collaboration between Restore America’s Estuaries and the North Carolina Coastal Federation — and their many partners.

The Academy provides training modules, research and reports, a database of existing living shoreline projects, a directory of professionals, and a forum.

Resources

Trained Living Shoreline Contractors and Engineers in Your Region
This handout includes our list of contractors and engineers who have been trained to install living shorelines in your region.
The cover of the North Carolina Coastal Federation's Fall 2023 Our Coast Edition
| Our Coast
This edition of the Coastal Federation's Our Coast publication covers the Federation's efforts across all program areas. It also looks forward to 2024 and what the upcoming year holds for the NC Coast.
living shoreline projects
| Maps
The North Carolina Coastal Federation has developed a working map of sites along the North Carolina coast where living shorelines have been built. This map features descriptions, photos, funding agencies and more.
living shoreline at new Center
The North Carolina Living Shoreline Steering Committee brings together federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations and universities to communicate and collaborate on education and outreach, research, and implementation of living shorelines.
The completed Oriental living shoreline
The North Carolina Living Shoreline Steering Committee brings together federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations and universities to communicate and collaborate on education and outreach, research, and implementation of living shorelines. education and outreach, research, and implementation of living shorelines.
Atlantic White's Point Living Shoreline
This 3-part training series is presented by the N.C. Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and Sea Grant.
Living Shoreline Benefits Video Playlist
Watch this video playlist to learn more about the benefits of living shorelines.
Wanchese Marine Industrial Park Living Shoreline Demonstration
The Federation partnered with the Wanchese Marine Industrial Park to protect 500 feet of shoreline through their living shoreline restoration projects.
living shoreline | photo © Vance Miller
The Living Shorelines Academy provides targeted outreach and training to homeowners, contractors, design professionals and regulators, to advance the appropriate use of living shorelines and enhance collaboration among all shoreline stakeholders.
Morris Landing Living Shoreline
Living Shorelines are innovative techniques that protect soundside shorelines from erosion, while simultaneously preserving natural ecosystems. During the Virtual Open House, local professionals and contractors were on hand to share information and answer questions on how you can build a living shoreline on your property.
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Other resources from around the web:

living shoreline | photo © Vance Miller

Resilient Shorelines

You can help make a difference for our coast—one living shoreline at a time!