Betsy Baldwin is a student in the Masters in Coastal and Ocean Policy program and graduates this spring. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2013 with a B.S. in Marine Science and Biology. Before starting her graduate career, she worked for SeaWorld Orlando, where she gained her interest in marine policy.
As coastal communities experience population growth, development has shifted away from oceanfront properties to estuarine properties. North Carolina has over 12,000 miles of estuarine shoreline or sheltered coast. Sheltered estuaries are becoming a more popular building location since they offer water accessibility and provide protection from coastal storms. These estuarine areas are the most biologically productive and ecologically valuable habitats in the coastal region, providing many ecosystem services.
|A bulkhead. Photo credit: North Carolina Coastal Federation|
Bulkheads are the most commonly used shoreline stabilization strategy to protect from erosion. NC Division of Coastal Management permit data show that 79% of the permitted shoreline stabilization activity since 1980 covered bulkhead installation.However, bulkheads increase erosion due to wave reflection and prevent natural migration of wetland vegetation inland. Alternatives to bulkheads are available that provide similar levels of erosion protection while minimizing the impacts to coastal marshes.
One such alternative that is growing in popularity with scientists are living shorelines. Living shoreline use natural elements to protect the shoreline from erosion like oyster shells, native marsh grasses, wood, limestone, rip rap, or constructed oyster breakwaters. Unlike bulkheads, living shorelines act as a natural buffer, absorbing wave energy, minimizing shoreline erosion, and protecting marshes. Additionally, living shorelines allow for marshes to migrate inland as sea level rises.
|A living shoreline project on Stump Sound in Onslow, County. Photo: North Carolina Coastal Federation|
|Profile of a type of living shoreline design|
However, in North Carolina bulkhead permitting is easy and straightforward while alternative shoreline permitting is difficult and time consuming. The differences between the two lead property owners and contractors to favor bulkheads over alternative techniques.
In North Carolina, existing legislation and regulations present difficulties that discourage alternative shoreline restoration efforts. The Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) prohibits permanent erosion control structures on ocean shorelines, but estuarine shorelines are exempt. General permit schemes often lean toward traditional shoreline stabilization measures, like bulkheads, while alternative techniques may require the more demanding major permit process. A major permit requires more time and more money, making it less appealing to property owners and contractors.
In order for the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management (DCM) to encourage natural erosion protection, it must reevaluate the permitting process currently in place for estuarine shoreline stabilization. Creating a more streamlined permit for alternative techniques, like living shorelines, will make them more appealing to property owners and contractors. This appeal will boost living shoreline installation throughout the NC. By doing this, estuarine shorelines will become more resilient to erosion and sea level rise continuing to protect its ecologically valuable habitats and provide shelter from coastal storms.