Some may have heard of a living shoreline. For those who have not, it is basically restoring the shoreline back to a more natural state – doing this with living plants and, in some cases, oysters or other natural materials. These living shorelines not only reduce the erosion that some properties experience, but the plants also remove a significant amount of nutrients running off from upland areas, and provide habitat for many fish and invertebrates. These types of shorelines, if done correctly, will last for generations with little maintenance.
Several homeowners have reached out to the extension office interested in obtaining a living shoreline. We can certainly stop by and make an assessment of your situation and provide some advice and guidance on next steps.
The first would be permitting. All lands below the mean high-water line (MHWL) is property of the state and its citizens (on rare occasions other entities). To be able to alter this will require a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and/or US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) (or authorization if from other entities). Depending on the project, these permits can be easy or complex. Most homeowners will not need a complex project to solve their problem.
Once permitted, the next step would be to acquire the needed plants. There are nurseries in the area that can provide these and we can help you find them. In some cases, your project may require a breakwater of some sort to protect the plants while they become established. The material for such breakwater must be approved by the state (and sometimes ACOE) and its placement in the water can impact the permitting. It is recommended you meet with us before to make sure you ask for the right material and placement.
Once the project is in, the next step is to monitor its success and alter the plan where needed. Your county extension office can help show how to do this. Escambia County Extension is currently working with four properties that have put in a living shoreline to assist with monitoring. Two of those are new and the monitoring has just begun. The other two have shown success.
One project on Perdido Key began monitoring in 2018. Between 2018 – 2019 the height of the plants increased, and the distance the project expanded from shore increased a little. The shoot density and percent cover did not change much. Between 2019 – 2020 the blade height remained the same (albeit they were all above five feet tall), the distance the project expanded from shore doubled, but the percent coverage remained the same. This project is experiencing a lot of boat wake currently, especially since the outbreak of COVID, and we will continue to monitor, but it is looking good.
The other project is on Bayou Grande. This one also began monitoring in 2018. Between 2018 – 2019 there was no change in plant height. There was an increase in shoot density and the percent coverage doubled. The distance the project expanded from the shore did not change over the course of that year. Between 2019-2020 the plant height and percent coverage increased. There was no change in shoot density and distance the project expended from shore.
In both projects, seagrass was growing just beyond the living shoreline. The one in Bayou Grande had no grass before the project started. We will continue to help them monitor these but consider them a success at this point.
If you are interested in a living shoreline, contact your county extension office for more information or visit www.floridalivingshorelines.com for regional examples and resources.