The shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay is a critical interface between land and water. The type of shoreline can have dramatic effects on habitat and living resources, which in turn can affect human experiences. Natural shorelines provide habitat and food, serve as a natural buffer to absorb wave energy and reduce coastal erosion, and can trap and retain runoff from the land that contains pollutants and excess nutrients.

But around the Bay, many landowners have “hardened” their shorelines with bulkheads, seawalls, and stones ("rip-rap") in attempts to prevent or minimize erosion. But these hardened structures often actually increase the rate of coastal erosion, and provide little or no habitat for the Bay’s living resources. Alternatives to these hardened shorelines are available that use a natural, "living shorelines" approach, and provide benefits to the Bay’s flora and fauna and landowners alike.

The NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science funded a $4.5 million project conducted from 2009 to 2015 to investigate the ecological effects of hardened shorelines and watershed development on nearshore ecosystems. Scientists from several institutions sampled in shallow, estuarine waters at more than 500 sites in Chesapeake Bay subestuaries and the Delaware Coastal Bays. The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office worked with project researchers to develop a research summary that highlights the major findings from this collaborative project. 

In order to provide healthy habitat and protect the Bay’s shorelines, the NOAA Restoration Center, in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Maryland Department of the Environment, has administered a grant program to fund applicants wishing to implement a living shorelines approach by using materials such as wetland grasses, submerged aquatic vegetation, natural fiber logs, clean fill, low-crested rock sills, and “living breakwaters” to restore habitat along the shore.