Living Shorelines and the Connecticut Coast

We know from Storms Irene and Sandy that shoreline erosion is a major issue along the Connecticut coast. Our shoreline has a variety of stabilization structures such as concrete seawalls, revetments and bulkheads interspersed with natural shorelines such as sandy or rocky beaches, tidal marshes and flats and exposed bedrock outcrops. The “hard structures” such as seawalls or revetments, while providing local stabilization can actually increase coastal erosion rates as well as interfering with natural processes such as sediment transport.

“Living shorelines” are a stabilization technique using plants, sand and limited use of rock to not only stabilize the shoreline, but to provide natural habitat and allow natural processes to occur. This technique is used extensively in estuaries such as the Chesapeake Bay where boat wakes cause extensive shoreline erosion. This area generally has weak waves and is considered a low energy shoreline. Connecticut, with its shoreline buffered from the waves of the Atlantic Ocean by Long Island, falls somewhere in between a high and low energy shoreline. And certainly, during storm events, areas of our shoreline are hit by high energy waves causing erosion.

Connecticut has a working definition of Living Shorelines for the State:

Living shorelines:  A shoreline erosion control management practice which also restores, enhances, maintains or creates natural coastal or riparian habitat, functions and processes.  Coastal and riparian habitats include but are not limited to intertidal flats, tidal marsh, beach/dune systems, and bluffs.  Living shorelines may include structural features that are combined with natural components to attenuate wave energy and currents.

Through the use of living shoreline techniques, where appropriate, we can maintain/create natural riparian and intertidal habitats, maintain ecological processes, and stabilize the shoreline. The key is determining where these techniques will work for Connecticut.

We will explore what living shorelines are, where they work, and how the Connecticut Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection regulates them at a workshop to be held January 9 at UConn Avery Point. As part of the Climate Adaptation Academy, this workshop is filled to capacity with almost 100 registrants. We look forward to a dynamic discussion that will surely raise many questions. This Living Shoreline workshop is the first in a three part series, and the second and third workshops will build off this first one to address issues of federal regulation, shellfish concerns and other topics that arise.