Living Shoreline – Can it work for your property?
PHOTOS: BARBARA ALBRECHT
To many, coastal living implies open air rooms with a view of the water and cool gentle sea breezes. More often than not, it also implies maintenance of the surrounding landscape. If you are fortunate enough to live along any of Florida’s ~1,200 miles of coastline, your landscape may vary from coralline rock, coconut palm trees and mangroves to majestic live oaks, cabbage palms, and shoreline grasses.
Embedded along the coast of Florida’s bays, sounds, and lagoons are hundreds of small bayous and inlets which drain the upland landscape and serve as a watery conveyance to the larger bodies of water. These aquatic habitats are also extremely important transition zones between inland activities and the larger bodies of water in which they flow. These transition zones are highly productive areas in the sense of biological diversity and may provide refuge for many juvenile species of marine organisms. Transition zones are a very important part of our aquatic ecosystem.
Coastal systems are termed dynamic as they may dramatically shift in short order from quiet protected calm waters to stormy seas depending on the weather. These rapid changes in wave and wind energy make the water to land transition that much more susceptible to negative impacts, when natural buffers have been altered. Buffers between the water and land, in this sense are vegetative.
Waterfront property may be situated so the predominant on-shore wind direction is exacerbating erosion, which could significantly reduce the shoreline. Property owners would naturally wish to abate this condition and protect their property. This short report is intended to provide information to the homeowner to reduce wave energy and erosion, while encouraging the ecosystem to function as intended.
Owning any type of property (car, house, piece of land) becomes a material possession, and in such the urge to protect it becomes very substantial. Ownership of property also entitles modification and maintenance of the property. Many owners new to coastal living may not understand the nuances associated with the ecosystem they are now living next door to or amongst.
Roadmap to Deciding if a Living Shoreline is Suited for your Property
The following questions and their correlating answers will serve to provide a ‘How to’ for the homeowner wishing an alternative to a hardened seawall. Many researchers have identified a link between loss of habitat and the associated fishery that depends on those functioning ecosystems, but this short guide is not tailored to that audience. Instead, this is an opportunity for homeowners to create or enhance vital habitat while protecting their property. Living shorelines provide a more natural approach for erosion control; Living shorelines stabilize the shoreline and upland property while allowing access for coastal and estuarine organisms.
Step 1. Setting the Stage
Conduct a simple site assessment by answering the following questions. What did the historic coastline look like 25 to 50 years ago? Are there any resources available to provide that information? Has it changed? If so, in what way?
What is the bank elevation (which is the height of near shore land above sea level)? Which county do you live in (the landscape and soils change based on geology and location)? How long have you lived at this property? Have you experienced a named storm coming ashore since living at this address? Do you have any pictures documenting the site before and after? What type of water body is your property located on? Which direction does your property face? How much of the shoreline in your immediate area is built up with homes and hardened shorelines (25, 50, or 100%)?
- Does your shoreline suffer from erosion?
Yes, what is the likely cause of this erosion; wind driven, currents, boat wakes, rain events, tropical storms, or a combination of several factors? Continue to question 2.
No. Consider doing nothing. Or an alternative to consider is planting native emergent vegetation to stabilize or enhance the current shoreline? No permit is required if plantings are conducted above the Mean High Water Line (MHWL). See list of plant suppliers at the end of this document.
- Do your adjoining coastal property neighbors have a hardened seawall or bulk head?
Yes. Is this a new structure?
Yes. Have you noticed an increase or decrease of erosion since this structure was built?
No, or only on one side of our property.
- Do you own the property (the upland area) to the water’s edge?
Yes. The State of Florida is the owner of the submerged land seaward unless otherwise stated* in the official deed or by the property appraiser.
No. By law, in order to receive authorization and permits to install a living shoreline, the legal owners of the property above and below the MHWL must provide their consent.
* Does your shoreline area contain a ‘Right of Way’? In Florida most coastal property belongs to the State of Florida. In some cases the City or County may have a legal right (ownership), as is the case in Pensacola where Project GreenShores is located. This submerged property is actually on a land deed as platted out two or three blocks seaward, meaning that each property owner had to be located and asked to authorize the transaction, in this case the permission to develop a breakwater.
Some properties which have been in the same family for many generations actually have Spanish Land Grants, meaning the land under the adjacent water belongs to this family. Although rare, several of these properties still exist throughout the state. Where do I find out this type of information? (The county appraiser’s website)
- What is the linear footage (length) of the shoreline for your project? (This information can be obtained on the county appraiser’s website or the legal deed for your property.)
500’ or less; if including a reef must not be further than 10’ of MHWL, may apply for a General Permit (GP).
500’ or more, must apply for a Environmental Resource Permit (ERP).
- What if I have a seawall or bulk head that is failing and I want to replace it with a Living Shoreline, do I still need a permit?
Yes, you will be required to apply for a permit. Whether the permit is for GP or ERP will depend upon the situation, but more than likely GP. The rules are strict when removing a seawall or bulkhead. Turbidity curtains should be used and no heavy equipment should ever be in the water.
- What agency do I contact to learn more about these permit(s)? Is there more than one, which should be contacted? How do I know if I have spoken to the correct agency?
The Florida Dept of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is responsible for issuing the permit, and is also responsible for contacting their federal counterpart, Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). Each Agency (state and federal) will notify any sister agencies that may require notification based on the information received. Projects within 10’ of the MHWL may not require as much time to process as those extending further offshore.
- How do I go about applying? Do I need to hire a contractor to facilitate this request and the issuing of the permit? How much does a permit cost and how long is it good for?
The permit application can be filled out on-line by going to the following website: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/wetlands/erp/forms.htm#330 . You can select verification of exemption if your property’s linear length is 500’ or less and, if using a breakwater, the inside is no more than 10’ from the mean high waterline. There are several steps involved with installing a living shoreline, and while the ambitious property owner can install one themselves, it is usually best if some participants have some experience. The permit costs vary, usually ranging from $100 to $250; additional work may increase cost. In the event of a hurricane, the homeowner would be within their rights (if they had a permit within the past 5 years) to rebuild (if necessary) within the same footprint.
The Environmental Resource Permit cost is dependent on the size of the project, and the magnitude of the effort. The installation of an oyster reef serves as a breakwater, and is followed up with planting for shoreline stabilization.
- Do I have to notify my neighbors along the shoreline if I intend to install a living shoreline? Yes, it is potentially beneficial to your neighbors to have a living shoreline adjacent to their property. But make note, there is a riparian set back rule that indicates you cannot build a living shoreline within 25’ of your neighbor’s riparian zone without their permission in writing. In addition, a living shoreline cannot be constructed within 3’ of submerged sea grasses.
- What kind of Living Shoreline is best for my property and scenario?
One size does not fit all, and each property is unique. Living Shoreline specialists working with the FDEP can schedule an appointment to determine if your site meets the qualifications and if a breakwater will be required. These specialists will consider the site assessment questions at the beginning of this informational handout. During this informal meeting, a determination of what is best suited for the property will be discussed, and any issues and concerns that you, as a property owner may have, can be answered during this time. In addition, a pre-application meeting will help those individuals processing the permit to insure that the best protection for the property is being pursued.
Examples of Living Shorelines and Associated Costs
The following illustrations and pictures are intended to provide a visual demonstration to a natural approach for erosion control, while still allowing access for coastal and aquatic organisms. Shoreline stabilization is the use of living plant material (emergent and submerged aquatic vegetation), oyster shells, earthen material or a combination of natural structures with rip rap or offshore breakwaters to protect the shoreline against erosion.
Vegetative cover is best used in low energy areas, and once established can absorb and abate wave energy as well as stabilize the shoreline landward.
|Plant Species||Unit||Common Name|
|Saltwater Cord Grass|
|Salt‐Meadow Cord Grass|
|Salt Brush, Sea Myrtle|
|Bitter Panic, Beach Grass|
Spacing varies for the species and the objectives for the site. General maintenance is minimal, includes debris and invasive species removal, supplemental if some plants die, and trimming.
Arc Gateway Plant Nursery, Pensacola, FL (850) 469-0969 email@example.com
Rancho La Orquidea, Inc. , Milton, FL (850) 983-8948 firstname.lastname@example.org
7 Pines, DeFuniak Springs FL (850) 830-8996 email@example.com
Environmental Native Plants, Inc., Seminole AL (850) 983-9121 firstname.lastname@example.org
Soft, Non-structural Stabilization
The use of natural, non-structural, biodegradable materials works best in low energy areas. These materials are intended to decompose after several years; after which time the plants should be well established and capable of stabilizing the area.
|10’ X 18”
25’ X 9”
113’ X 8’ (drain H20)
360’ X 12.5’ (drains H20)
|Straw Wattle||113’ X 8”|
These structures are built parallel to the shoreline to abate or reduce oncoming waves. Breakwaters are used in medium to high energy environments. Bagged oysters may be 8-12” out of the water, and no more than 10’ from the MHWL. The bagged oysters serve to break the incoming wave energy and calm the water before it comes ashore. Plants are planted behind this area and once established will grow seaward and landward until they become a lush carpet. The intertwined root system serves to stabilize the shore, and the emergent plants will serve to quiet the water when large storms and heavy wave action occur.
Some large coastal areas may require installations that are in deeper waters and may affect navigation. These structures require special permission, in Florida from the Board of Trustees, and additional permits and permanent markers to notify vessels.
Smaller wave energy breaks, as seen below, may also require additional permits and permission. Each site is unique and by working with the regulatory agency in advance, before the permitting process begins, may alleviate a number of headaches and issues further on in the process.
Many communities undervalued the importance of living shorelines and barely noticed as they disappeared, but losses of infrastructure and coastlines after hurricanes have reawakened us as to their importance. These living shorelines have served to trap sediment and nutrients flowing down the Mississippi River for hundreds of years, as well as soften the wave energy kicked up during tropical storms.
Coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico are implementing many large scale projects to protect shorelines, develop habitat for flora and fauna, and prepare for sea level rise or the next storm which will inevitably happen. Living shorelines are a benefit to our coast and serve many purposes and ecosystem functions, whether we are aware of these services or not.