News

Who installs living shoreline projects?

By: Eric Sparks / Published: Mar 07,  2019

The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and collaborators are working to demystify living shorelines in an effort to build a robust contractor workforce that can respond to demand and promote these types of projects. 

Property owners always ask us who they should call to get a living shoreline installed, and we don’t have an answer for that. The truth is that it’s much easier to find a hardened shoreline contractor than a living shoreline contractor and with all the site planning and regulatory hoops, it’s clear why.

The first step in demystifying the process is hosting workshops for marine contractors, landscapers and consultants that will introduce living shorelines. We have a workshop planned for Friday, March 29, at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Moss Point, Mississippi.

At the workshop, we will briefly discuss design, permitting considerations and cost estimates of living shorelines. We will also introduce free resources, such as people and videos, that can help get you familiar with these types of projects. 

If you are interested in attending this workshop, click here to register.

Living shorelines is a term used to describe a set of techniques used to stabilize shorelines while also providing as many of nature’s benefits as possible. Some of these benefits include providing habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish, improving water quality and absorbing flood waters.

Erosion control is often the top priority of living shoreline projects, but the “living” part of living shorelines is the best descriptor of the primary or secondary goal(s) of these projects. In coastal Alabama and Mississippi, the conservation or restoration of wetlands or oysters, and the benefits those ecosystems provide, is a desirable outcome of these types of projects.

The alternative to living shorelines are hardened shorelines, such as bulkheads and seawalls. These types of structures are known to have negative environmental and economic consequences. However, they are much easier to plan and install than living shorelines projects.

A group installs a living shoreline at Camp Wilkes in Biloxi.
A group installs a living shoreline at Camp Wilkes in Biloxi.

In some areas and situations, a hardened shoreline may be the only logical solution; however, Alabama and Mississippi are full of hardened shorelines that weren’t installed out of necessity and could easily be replaced with a more environmentally friendly option, such as a living shoreline project.

As you can imagine, every shoreline and situation is different, so there isn’t a template for constructing living shoreline projects. The amount of wave energy, bank slope, state of neighboring shorelines, sediment type and salinity at a specific site are just a few of the factors to consider when planning one of these projects. Additionally, permitting for living shorelines isn’t as straightforward as a hardened shoreline.

Education and outreach efforts have led to more and more property owners inquiring about living shorelines. Yet, even with this increased demand and the established importance of natural shorelines, hardened shorelines are still being installed at a much faster rate than living shorelines.

Willa Brantley, director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Wetland Permitting Bureau, talks about permitting at a previous living shorelines workshop.
Willa Brantley, director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Wetland Permitting Bureau, talks about permitting at a previous living shorelines workshop.

If you would like to learn more about living shorelines or attend future workshops, contact me, an assistant professor with the MSU Extension Service and coastal ecology specialist with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, at eric.sparks@msstate.edu or 228-546-1025.

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