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Effectiveness of Living Shorelines as an Erosion Control Method in North Carolina

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Living shorelines are a shoreline stabilization strategy encompassing a range of vegetative to structural materials and serve as an alternative approach to the use of structures like bulkheads, which are known to aggravate erosion. Living shorelines are often installed with little to no long-term monitoring for effectiveness; specifically, there is a lack of quantitative data regarding their performance as a shoreline stabilization strategy. This study sought to assess the performance of living shorelines with sills, with respect to shoreline protection, by determining shoreline change rates (SCR) using geospatial analysis. Shoreline surveys were conducted using a real-time kinematic (RTK)-GPS unit at a total of 17 living shoreline projects and nine control segments at 12 sites along the coast of North Carolina. Current shoreline position was compared to historic (pre-installation) shoreline positions obtained from aerial imagery, dating to 1993. The average SCR among northern sites before installation was − 0.45 ± 0.49 m year−1, and in southern sites, it was − 0.21 ± 0.52 m year−1. After installation, average SCR was significantly less erosive at northern and southern sites with living shorelines, 0.17 ± 0.47 and − 0.01 ± 0.51 m year−1, respectively. Of the 17 living shoreline project segments, 12 exhibited a reduction in the rate of erosion; of those 12, six were observed to be accreting. This study supports the convention that living shorelines can reduce the rate of erosion and potentially restore lost shore zone habitat.

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Special thanks to the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Department of Environmental Sciences for equipment and travel funding. We extend special thanks and a profound respect for the staff of N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve System, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, North Carolina Center for Advancement of Teaching, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, National Park Service Cape Lookout National Seashore, and North Carolina State Park’s Jockey’s Ridge State Park and Hammocks Beach State Park who offered access and knowledge in the pursuit of science.

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Correspondence to Mariko A. Polk.

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Communicated by Stijn Temmerman

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Polk, M.A., Eulie, D.O. Effectiveness of Living Shorelines as an Erosion Control Method in North Carolina. Estuaries and Coasts 41, 2212–2222 (2018).

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