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.

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Learn about the benefits to living shorelines.


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 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.


feet of living shorelines installed


living shoreline projects


wetland grasses planted

Featured Projects

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Project summaries from the blog:

Carolina Beach State Park Living Shoreline
In 2016, the Coastal Federation partnered with Carolina Beach State Park to construct a 610-foot living shoreline along the park's estuarine shoreline.
The completed Oriental living shoreline
Completed in 2021, this living shoreline protects the peninsula from future storm damage and restores lost marsh habitat. Thousands of wetland grasses were planted landward of a 3,060 ft. rock and oyster shell bag sill .
Atlantic White's Point Living Shoreline
Completed in 2021, this project includes a 1,720 ft. living shoreline made of granite rock in addition to the planting of over 70,000 marsh grasses shoreward of the rock structure.
Pine Knoll Shores Living Shorelines
In 2020, the Coastal Federation partnered with the Town of Pine Knoll Shores and received funding from the N.C. Department of Justice Environmental Enhancement Grant Program and the N.C. Land and Water Fund to build a 460 ft. living shoreline at the Town Hall.
Grasses fill in and spread creating a healthy coastal habitat, August 2013.
In 2009, the Coastal Federation partnered with the landowners and contracted a local marine engineer to develop a living shoreline design.

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.


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.
The Federation's Living Shoreline Cost-Share Program for Public and Private Property Owners
The North Carolina Coastal Federation has acquired grant funding to help homeowners build living shorelines.
Living Shoreline
For a quick review of accomplishments, lessons learned, and living shoreline permit categories, check out this presentation on Living Shoreline Permitting in NC.
Phragmites australis © Mark Hibbs
View presentations from the July 17, 2017 working meeting about the invasive species, Phragmites
Coastal Restoration and Community Economic Development in North Carolina (2015 Study)
To better document how coastal restoration in North Carolina also affects community and economic development, the North Carolina Coastal Federation contracted with RTI International to assess the link between coastal restoration and economic development, perform an economic impact analysis of related projects, review how other states benefit from coastal restoration, and identify how coastal restoration fits within the state’s larger economic development strategies.
This image shows the NC Coastal Federation's living shoreline, an erosion control project, at Jockey's Ridge State Park. The image looks onto the oyster bag sill that makes up the living shoreline from behind a bed of marsh grass. Beyond the living shoreline the sound and sand dunes can be seen.
If your property is experiencing erosion, use this guide as a tool to learn about the choices you have in controlling your shoreline erosion and help you decide which approach is right for you situation.
Carteret Community College Fact Sheet
| Fact Sheets
This fact sheet details the importance of the Carteret County Community College Living Shoreline as well as the Bogue Sound area in general. It provides information on how the Federation and the community college are working together to protect and create habitat, prevent erosion, and improve water quality.
an image of a group of volunteers using bagged oyster shells to construct a living shoreline
| Fact Sheets
This fact sheet details the definition, purpose, and implementation of living shorelines as a shoreline stabilization tool.
The N.C. Coastal Federation educates teachers as well as students. This group of teachers participated in a science-based seminar at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching on Ocracoke Island.
| Fact Sheets
This fact sheet details the NC Coastal Federation's living shoreline project at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching's Ocracoke Campus. The living shoreline was built to protect the property from erosion and is no used as an educational tool in the NCCAT program.
This image shows the NC Coastal Federation's living shoreline, an erosion control project, at Jockey's Ridge State Park. The image looks onto the oyster bag sill that makes up the living shoreline from behind a bed of marsh grass. Beyond the living shoreline the sound and sand dunes can be seen.
| Fact Sheets
This fact sheet details the creation of Jockeys Ridge State Park, the erosion issues that are being faced, and how the NC Coastal Federation's living shoreline project is working to restore and preserve the area.

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!