Initiatives | Shoreline Management

Shoreline Management: Alternatives to Hardening the Shore

Shoreline erosion is a natural process. However, sea level rise and poorly planned shoreline development projects can accelerate natural erosion rates. A 2000 Heinz Center report found that within the next 60 years, shoreline erosion will claim one in four U.S. homes within 500 feet of the shore, costing coastal property owners roughly $530 million per year.


Shoreline erosion, such as this bluff erosion shown here, is a significant issue for many coastal managers.

With over 160 million people living along our coasts and estuaries, and an additional 180 million using the areas for recreation each year, the impacts of coastal erosion are a significant problem for coastal managers. As tasked by the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), state coastal management programs must minimize loss of life and property caused by erosion and sea level rise while continuing to protect our natural coastal resources. Therefore, the solution to shoreline erosion is not as simple as hardening our shorelines with bulkheads, riprap, or groins to wall off the sea.

A seawall

Seawalls and other hard shoreline stabilization structures, can disrupt natural shoreline processes and destroy shoreline habitats such as wetlands and intertidal beaches.

While these hard stabilization techniques may be appropriate and effective solutions under some circumstances, they can be very costly and can also interrupt natural shoreline processes and sand movement that can lead to increased erosion downdrift from the structure. In addition, shoreline hardening destroys valuable shoreline habitats including wetlands and intertidal areas.

Recently, more attention is being placed on alternative shoreline management techniques including soft, non-structural, hybrid, or planning and policy approaches. The "Resource Toolbox" on this site provides coastal managers with additional information about the variety of shoreline management tools available, emphasizing these "alternative" approaches. General resource information, case studies, and links to other useful resources are also included in the toolbox.


For additional information, contact Allison Castellan.