Living shorelines a more natural approach to preventing coastal erosion

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MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) – For centuries, large bulkheads have been used to help control erosion along coastlines. More recent research suggests that a more natural approach may be a better alternative.

This natural approach is known as living shorelines. Having nature on your side, especially during a storm or hurricane, is proven to provide better protection from coastal erosion. Living shorelines combine a natural marsh with an offshore breakwater to slow down waves as they crash ashore.

Carter Smith, a researcher at UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, has been studying these habitats for years.

“The marsh plants themselves, if you add up all these hundreds of thousands of stems that are behind me, they’re really good at breaking down the wave energy as well. And so, not only are they pretty, but they’re also protecting your property,” said Smith, who adds they’re also a great habitat for fish, crabs, oysters, and other marine animals. There are currently only about 150 of them up and down the North Carolina coast but word about them is getting out quickly.

“Now, there are a lot of contractors throughout the state who know how to build living shorelines, and there’s a lot more information online so homeowners now actually know that this is an option,” Smith said.

The upfront cost to install a living shoreline is a little more than a bulkhead. Once it’s in, little to no maintenance is needed, even after a storm, which saves money in the long run.

Researchers at the UNC Institute for Marine Sciences expect living shorelines to become more common across the state in the coming years.

If you’d like to volunteer to have a living shoreline on your property monitored as part of the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences’ living shorelines research program, email Carter Smith here.

For more information on your options for shoreline protection and management from the North Carolina Coastal Reserve, click here.

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