• Shoreline development and armoring reduces the resiliency of natural marshes under sea level rise, leading to decreased marsh habitat and ecosystem services.
  • The more sustainable and ecologically sound alternative, living shorelines (i.e. created tidal marsh), provide similar marsh habitat for most estuarine fauna and had similar plant productivity as reference marshes within 2 years, suggesting that many ecosystem services will be sustained if living shorelines are used as shore protection.
  • As the living shoreline marsh matures, sediments become richer and store more nutrients, and mussel abundance increases. These ecosystem services will be enhanced over time (years to decades).
  • Living shorelines in urban and rural settings performed similarly to nearby natural marshes indicating that created, living shoreline marshes provide valuable services in both urban and rural locations.
  • Property owner shoreline modification decisions are primarily influenced by marine contractors, neighbors, and NGOs. Direct training and engagement of key influencing groups could enhance living shoreline use and integration into local and social norms. 
  • Armored shorelines are held to a lesser standard in the law than living shorelines, limiting living shoreline use. To manage for sustained ecosystem services, regulations should be updated to have a shorescape perspective that accommodate shifting marsh boundaries with sea level rise and reflect current societal concerns and values. 
  • Revised policies, in concert with enhanced communication by influencing groups to property owners on the societal value of ecosystem services provided by marshes and living shorelines, will likely result in more sustainable shorelines and coastal communities under a changing climate.


Living shorelines provide numerous ecological and societal benefits compared to armoring. 

Click on the image (left) to compare.

Learn more about Living Shoreline Laws and Policies from Delaware to Florida


Forward-thinking shoreline management decisions could result in the vast majority of Virginia tidal shorelines either remaining natural or having a living shoreline implemented.  Click on the maps to enlarge.

Potential Virginia Shorescape Futures

  •  Virginia has about 8,562 miles of tidal shoreline of which 70% are associated with tidal marshes.
  • About 12% (1,053 miles) of Virginia’s tidal shorelines are currently defended with traditional armoring.
  • About 78% of Virginia shorelines are suitable for a living shoreline (6,623 miles)

         *See Map Notes below 

  Potential for New and Enhanced Shoreline Marsh in Virginia

  • Over 6,500 miles (10,000 km) of tidal shoreline in Virginia have opportunities to restore and enhance shoreline marshes.
  • Of that, over 1,400 miles (2,300 km) are opportunities to create new shoreline marsh.

Notes: This map presents both currently defended and undefended shorelines that are suitable for a living shoreline (planted marsh with or without a sill structure depending on wave energy conditions).


Graphics Credit: Kelsey Broich, Network for Engineering with Nature, UGA (2021)
Maps Source: VIMS-CCRM Shoreline Management Model v 5.1

Map Notes: Areas of special considerations may require specific designs to accommodate site characteristics such as nearby seagrass beds that narrow channels. King William County, and King and Queen County are not included (data pending). Seaside tidal marsh complexes in Northumberland County were not considered in this analysis (1,467 mi of shoreline).