Managing My Shoreline

Deciding how to manage your shoreline is easier with the right information and tools.   Look here for shoreline guidance based on the Center's fifty years of in-house research.  Learn how to figure out what your shoreline needs and the steps to take for creating a living shoreline.


What is erosion?  Erosion is a natural process occurring along most Chesapeake Bay shorelines.  Bare soil areas without vegetation, trees that have fallen, banks that have slumped, and gradual shoreline retreat are all signs of erosion.

How do I know if I have an erosion problem?  Not all erosion is a problem that needs to be corrected.  If the erosion rate is very slow and the risk to property and improvements is low, even if the erosion continues, then consider leaving the shoreline in a natural condition.  If the erosion cannot be tolerated, then first consider if a living shoreline may be effective.  Forests and tidal wetlands along shorelines naturally provide erosion protection, a benefit that is costly to replace once removed.

What is a living shoreline?  Living shorelines are nature-based approaches for shoreline protection. This means to look at what natural features exist (or used to exist) along your shoreline – like a marsh or beach – and restore those features to your shoreline (sometimes with wave protection like breakwaters or sills made of oyster shell or stones). Living shorelines can stabilize your shoreline, while also improving water quality and providing habitat for fish, oysters and other important Bay creatures.

Why should I choose a living shoreline?  First, because Virginia (and other coastal states) have a policy to encourage the use of living shorelines, but, just as importantly because of the many benefits outlined in this living shorelines tri-fold brochure.

See Examples ...
Find out more ...
  • Watch a video about Living Shorelines that describes why they can be a great way to address erosion while helping the Bay – YouTube video (12:24)
  • Read more about Living Shorelines design alternatives from natural to structural, and what you need to know about vegetation.
  • See how the energy on your shoreline changes your erosion control options in this Green-to-Gray display.
  • Learn about the Carl Hershner Teaching Marsh, including pictures of what a marsh living shoreline looks like and the wildlife that lives there.
  • CCRM shares our research on living shorelines in this Sustainable Shorescapes storymap.

Many shorelines are highly suitable for living shoreline practices. However, multiple factors determine if this approach will be effective over time; shoreline location, land and water uses, and erosion and flood risk need to be considered.

Shoreline Decision Support Tool ...

CCRM created an easy-to-use Shoreline Decision Support Tool to help choose the most effective erosion control practice for your shoreline.  Just answer a series of questions about the conditions on your shoreline, at home or on any mobile device, and it will provide a recommendation; from bulkheads and riprap, to determining if a living shoreline is right for you. (based on your answers and best available science on shoreline management).

Read Shoreline Decision Support Tools: New & Improved (pdf) for information on how this tool works.

Comparing Shoreline Stabilization Options ...

A range of shoreline stabilization techniques with benefits and disadvantages for each is available in a summary of Natural and Structural Measures for Shoreline StabilizationWhen suitable, a living shoreline or sloped revetment is recommended over bulkheads (hardened shorelines) for several reasons:

  • WAVE ENERGY – Bulkheads are vertical structures that deflect wave energy toward the base of the bulkhead and along the shoreline to neighboring properties. Sloped revetments can break up or absorb the wave energy.
  • HABITAT – Bulkheads sever the connections between the water, shoreline, and uplands, which provide habitat for fish, oysters and other important wildlife.  For instance, turtles are prevented from getting to the upland to lay their eggs and juvenile fish have no shallow water in which to hide from the larger fish.
  • SEDIMENT MOVEMENT – Bulkheads prevent the movement of sediment - sand, dirt and other matter that settles to the water's bottom - necessary for the sustainability of marshes and beaches downstream.  These coastal marshes are invaluable for filtering pollution from the water, protecting communities from harsh storms, and providing nutrients that support plant and animal life.
** However, living shorelines with nature-based features may not provide enough protection for some high-energy and/or high-risk locations, like canals and marinas. Under these conditions, other shoreline management practices might be necessary like revetments (riprap) or bulkheads. 

STEP 1 – Seek Expert Advice 

Managing shoreline erosion is a complex subject. Always seek professional guidance for the design of your project. Start locally with non-profit agencies and then get a second (or third) opinion!

Understanding shared jurisdiction ...

Virginia is somewhat unique in managing tidal wetlands through a local-state cooperative program.  This means that most resources have a least two responsible regulatory authorities. Each applicable agency conducts a separate and independent review and issues a permit for their jurisdiction.  However all agencies share one application form - the joint permit application.  The graphic below summarizes the interplay between these different programs. 

Gathering information for your area ...

This is the perfect place to start gathering information from well-inform but objective sources, find one near you:

Permitting process answers ...

Next, state and local entities provide technical advice on shoreline management. Contact your local wetlands board for information on the permitting process and to request a pre-application site visit: 

More answers to your specific questions ...

For on-site answers to your specific questions concerning your shoreline contact one of these:

Understanding professional help ...

You may need a shoreline professional but don't start looking yet... see STEP 2 - Choose the Right Design first, and then find a professional that specializes in the design type that you're interested in.

Consider whether to hire a professional for parts of the project, like design and permitting, or contract them to manage the whole project from start to finish.

STEP 2 – Choose the Right Design

When choosing a design, factors like the cause of your erosion and energy on your shoreline are important. Several site characteristics can be used to evaluate the potential success of a living shoreline.

What site characteristics do I need to consider?

Site characteristics can be used to evaluate the potential success of a living shoreline. They include:

  • Fetch (or distance across open water) of 3 miles or less
  • Low bank height and/or adequate area for bank grading with no strong tidal currents
  • Location of shoreline in relation to winds
  • Existing marsh, submerged aquatic vegetation, or trees and shrubs near the project site
  • Moderate to minimal erosion and wave activity
  • Shallow water depth near the shoreline
  • Abundant sunlight
These characteristics are all considered in the easy to use Shoreline Decision Support Tool.
What are the design alternatives I can choose from?

A variety of design options exist for living shorelines depending upon your site characteristics.  Learn more about stabilization techniques that not only protect shorelines and infrastructure, but also help to conserve, create and restore natural shoreline habitats and ecosystem services. You will also find general design guidelines here.

  • Non-Structural methods focus on enhancing or creating the dominant natural features already present, such as tidal marshes, beaches, and riparian forests. The most suitable sites for non-structural methods have only minor erosion problems, low wave action and few boat wakes.
  • Sills & Breakwaters are used where wave energy is higher and severe erosion conditions prevent the use of non-structural methods. The strategic placement of structures changes the physical environment to allow for the growth of vegetation and the persistence of natural habitat features.
  • Shellfish Reefs are effective living shoreline design alternatives where the natural presence and recruitment of oysters, ribbed mussels and other shellfish are already well- established. 

    Are Oysters an Option for Your Living Shoreline? (Chesapeake Bay Foundation)

Which plants will work for my project?

Discover the most common native plants found in each coastal habitat. These plant lists (with pictures) and other resources can help guide native plant selection for living shorelines, waterfront gardens, and habitat restoration projects.

What is my project going to cost?
  • Construction costs for living shoreline projects and other stabilization methods vary widely depending on the shoreline length, level of protection needed, and the costs for materials and labor.  Non-structural methods cost an average $50 - $100 per foot, such as beach nourishment and planted marshes.  Projects with sand fill and/or stone structures typically cost $150 - $500 per foot. 
  • This does not include permitting costs, but if your living shoreline project meets the requirements for a General Permit, not only is the review process faster, but your application and processing fees are generally waived.
  • Upfront construction and permitting costs are not the only factors to consider.  The value of ecosystem services provided by living shorelines help offset these costs indirectly over time. 
STEP 3 – Apply for the Permit, Build, and Enjoy

In general, any activity that is proposed along the shoreline, within 100 feet of the water or tidal marsh, or in the waterway, will require permits. Property owners are ultimately responsible for getting and complying with all of the necessary permits.  One application is filled out and distributed to all of the appropriate agencies.  If you are designing a complicated living shoreline project a consultant may be needed.  Don't want to deal with the paperwork?  If you hire a professional, they will complete the necessary permits for you.

Who are shoreline professionals and what do they do?
  • Permit Agents – help you through the permit process.  Professional services include filling out permit application documents, negotiating with regulatory agencies and adjacent property owners, and representing the property owner during public hearings. 
  • Marine Contractors – build and repair structures located in tidal waters like fixed and floating docks, bulkheads, revetments, and living shorelines. 
  • Certified Arborists – skilled tree care professionals who provide advice and expert services about tree health, pruning, tree life expectancy, and determining if shoreline trees are at risk of falling
  • Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals – landscape designers and horticulturists who design, install and maintain sustainable landscape practices in the Chesapeake Bay region, like rain gardens, native plant gardens and living shorelines.
How do I find a shoreline professional?

We've provided a list of sources below, but don't forget to ask for references! 

  • CCRM maintains a shoreline permit database for information collected from shoreline permit applications.  Upon request, CCRM will provide a list of marine contractors working in your locality (without any endorsement). Contact [[v|christine,Christine Tombleson]] / 804-684-7912 for more information.
  • Find a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) – Filter the directory by "living shorelines" to find certified professionals.
  • Living Shorelines Contractors List – The Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintains a list of professionals for hire who can assist you with living shoreline projects, including a contractor (to help you build), an agent (to help you through the process and permitting), and others who can help you design your living shoreline.
  • Find a Certified Arborist – review terms of use then click Accept to search directory by location
  • Ask a shoreline property owner that has a living shoreline approach you are interested in who they used as a contractor.
Tips on choosing the right professional for the job.
  • If your project involves any tree removal or planting, tidal marsh creation, or native plant gardens, then you should consult with certified arborists and Chesapeake Bay landscape professionals.
  • Contact more than one shoreline professional and ask them to conduct a shoreline visit to discuss your plans.  Compare their answers and advice to see where they overlap or contradict.
  • Seek advice from the Virginia Shoreline Erosion Advisory Service. They can assist you with plan reviews, construction inspections, and give advice about working with shoreline professionals.
How do I fill out a joint permit application?
The application form appears long and complicated. However, the information is critical to a well-informed decision about protected resources and not all of the pages are needed for an application. A detailed breakdown of the types of permits and help to complete an application is provided on the Permit Information page.  Or, you can hire a Permit Agent to assist you (described above)
How do I know if this is a DIY?
Fixing shoreline erosion can be easy or complicated depending on the circumstances.  Quick fixes often do not work without knowing what’s causing the erosion.  Seek expert advice from multiple sources about what you plan to do first.
When is the best time to construct a living shoreline?
Projects that include tidal marshes are most successful when the new marsh is planted in spring or early summer.  Trees and shrubs are best planted on the upland bank next to the shoreline in early fall. 
How long will this take?
The time it takes for the design-permitting-construction process for a living shoreline varies widely and most shoreline stabilization projects take time. It depends on what kind of project it is and how much shoreline length is involved.  Allow at least 3-6 months to consult with experts and come up with a concept design, plus another 1-3 months for the permitting process at least.  The construction sequence may be determined by the time of year.
Where can I find detailed design guidance?
The Living Shoreline Technical Design Guidelines provide more detailed information and technical guidance for living shorelines in Virginia.
Are there sources of funding assistance?

These programs will help homeowners pay for a living shoreline:

These programs will help homeowners finance a living shoreline:
  • Middle Peninsula PDC Living Shoreline Incentive Program – Offers low-interest loans to assist homeowners with the cost of installing living shorelines on suitable properties.  Loans up to $10,000 can be financed for up to 5 years.  Loans over $10,000 can be financed for up to 10 years. 
  • James River Association – Offers free site visit, project design, assistance with permitting process, at least 50% of construction costs, and 3 years of maintenance for homeowners with shoreline erosion who agree to maintain the living shoreline for 10 years.


What can YOU do?

Every action on your shoreline can impact your neighbors' shorelines all the way to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, so every little thing that we do adds up!

Everyday at home ...
  • Protect healthy shoreline trees and tidal marshes
  • Learn more about Living on the Water and how to become a Bay Star Home from
  • Choose a living shoreline if you have erosion that needs to be stabilized
  • Don't mow your wetland
  • Spread the word to others
Get involved ...
  • Join or support local environmental organizations involved with shorelines like ...
    Chesapeake Bay Foundation – Hampton Roads
    Elizabeth River Project – Elizabeth and Lafayette Rivers
    Friends of the Rappahannock – Rappahannock River
    James River Association – James River
    Lynnhaven River NOW Virginia Beach
  • Look for shoreline volunteer opportunities like litter cleanups, living shoreline installation and maintenance
  • Virginia Master Naturalists – explore and learn about the environment and then share that knowledge within their communities. Join these dedicated volunteers who provide education, citizen science, and service promoting the conservation of Virginia's natural resources.  Find a chapter near you!
  • Carl Hershner Teaching Marsh – Each year thousands of visitors come to VIMS to learn about the benefits of coastal wetlands in this outdoor classroom - a one-acre tidal wetland demonstration area - in Gloucester Point, Virginia.  Volunteers are needed for tasks that vary from leading group tours to getting your hands dirty weeding!
What is CCRM doing?

CCRM has spent many years researching wetlands and shorelines using everything from waders, boats, and drones to aerial photos and computer models and sharing what we've learned in publications.

Research ...
  • Find out what shoreline decisions and policies have the greatest influence on maintaining ecosystem services and benefits on Chesapeake Bay shorescapes under climate change.
  • Learn about the history of CCRM's Shoreline Inventory program – mapping the shoreline condition, total number of miles, and what plants grow where. 
  • Read more about our Coastal Ecology research on living shorelines, coastal habitats, and the animals that live there.
Publications ...
What is VIRGINIA doing?

Virginia first passed laws that recognized the value of tidal wetlands in 1972. It is the current policy of the Commonwealth that a living shoreline must first be considered before any other erosion control options.  Learn more about why Virginia policy encourages living shorelines, and what the policy says.