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Softening Our Shorelines

  • Hilke, C., J. Ritter, J. Ryan-Henry, E. Powell, A. Fuller, B. Stein, and B. Watson
  • Mar 12, 2020

Policy and Practice for Living Shorelines Along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts


America’s coastlines are threatened by increasingly intense storms, rising sea levels, and other climate change impacts, resulting in more frequent flooding and accelerating rates of erosion and land loss. Approaches for shoreline protection traditionally have relied on the construction of hard structures, such as seawalls, bulkheads, and breakwaters. While appropriate in certain settings, coastal armoring can have a number of negative impacts, including loss of coastal habitats, increased erosion of adjacent properties, and high maintenance and post-storm reconstruction costs.

In contrast, living shorelines rely on natural and nature-based features, such as marshes, dunes, and oyster reefs, and can often provide the same shoreline protection while providing ecological and community benefits, such as fish and wildlife habitat, improved water quality, and recreational opportunities.

Softening Our Shorelines is designed to promote the broader application of living shorelines across the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. National Wildlife Federation partnered with the Coastal States Organization to review the use of living shorelines across these regions and analyze policies and permitting requirements that may provide incentives—or barriers—to the broader use of these ecologically friendly shoreline protection techniques. The report provides a state-by-state summary of policies relevant to living shorelines and offers recommendations and best practices for how federal and state agencies can promote the increased application of living shorelines.

Softening Our Shorelines

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More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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