In 2004, Tracy Skrabal, a senior coastal scientist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation, led one of the first living shoreline projects in North Carolina, which replaced a failing bulkhead at a high wave-energy site in a freshwater setting. The site was at the Edenhouse public boat ramp along the Chowan River in North Carolina. It proved to be an effective early demonstration of living shoreline techniques, combining erosion control practices with the restoration of a freshwater marsh and native riparian buffer vegetation. The team also gained valuable insights on controlling seaward and landward sources of erosion.
- Practice adaptive management. Since the project was located in a high wave-energy area, the team quickly realized the need for a “speed bump” to slow wave energy in order to fully mitigate the erosion forces. The combination of a stone sill and vegetative planting techniques for this living shoreline project helped shape future work.
- Consider the plants’ needs. Riparian plants need a lot of water. Before starting construction, think about how to water them, and consider planting shrubs and trees during the rainy season.
- Avoid hurricane season. While hurricanes cannot be predicted, the season can, so plan accordingly. A hurricane came through during this project, causing many new plants to be lost and exacerbating the erosion.
- Supplement the soil. Before planting, test the soil to determine if supplementation with organics is necessary.
- Reduce the amount of fill used. It might not be necessary to use much or any fill in intertidal areas. Many projects work better if there’s an open space between the sill (if used) and emergent plants so sediment can collect naturally. Fish and shorebirds also love to use this shallow protected area behind the sill. This approach also helps keep the project cost down.
- Consider other sources of erosion. Be sure to think about nearby roads and parking lots that might be contributing to stormwater runoff and shoreline erosion from the landward side. If not addressed, these features can undermine the living shoreline project and should therefore be included in the design process.
- Consider construction materials. More than one material may work for a shoreline, but consider the one that will work best for the existing conditions and energy levels. For example, oyster shell bags are often an excellent alternative to stone, but only where naturally occurring oysters are already growing.
- Start small and design well. If the community is new to living shorelines, don’t start with a project that might be controversial. Start with something small and well-engineered as a demonstration project so that it can be easily transferable and permitted in the future.