Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Special Report in Applied Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, SRAMSOE NO. 463


The Chesapeake Bay has about 10 million people living along its shores (Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2017) and about 150,000 new people move into the Bay watershed each year. For communities along the shore, the continual shore retreat may be a problem. When land along the shore shows signs of erosion, property owners tend to address it.

In the past, shore stabilization strategies generally were stone revetments or wood bulkheads. Though these strategies are effective at shore stabilization, they can create a disconnect between the upland and the water and typically provide few natural habitats along the shoreline. In the past 30 years, a more natural approach to shore stabilization, termed “living shorelines,” has used marshes, beaches, and dunes effectively to protect the shoreline along Virginia’s creeks, rivers, and bays. Numerous benefits result from this approach to shoreline management including creating critical habitat for marine plants and animals, improved water quality, and reduced sedimentation. In addition, most waterfront property owners enjoy a continuous connection to the water that allows for enhanced recreational opportunities. However, a recent analysis has shown that between 2011 and 2016 only 24% of the permits granted for shore protection were considered living shorelines (ASMFC, 2016).

Since 2006, when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Coastal Zone Management Program held a Living Shoreline Summit, the use of this shore management strategy has been actively promoted. Providing educational programs for consultants and contractors who work in this field to ensure that they are familiar and comfortable with living shoreline strategies was one way to achieve this. As a result, funding was provided in 2010 and again in 2016 to develop living shoreline design guidance for shore protection and a contractor’s training course. In an effort to grow the number of contractors, local staff, and non-profit organizations who are familiar with correct living shoreline project design, the guidance and course have been updated.

These guidelines are meant to address the need to educate consultants, contractors, and other professionals in the use of living shoreline strategies. It provides the necessary information to determine where they are appropriate and what is involved in their design and construction. The guidelines focus on the use of created marsh fringes but also touch on the use of beaches for shore protection. The guidelines were created for the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay estuarine system (Figure 1-1) but may be applicable to other similar estuarine environments. These references and tools are for guidance only and should not replace professional judgments made at specific sites by qualified individuals.



Living Shorelines, Virginia, Estuaries

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.


This project was funded by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at the Department of Environmental Quality through Grant #NA16NOS4190171 of the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA, or any of its subagencies.



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