For decades, marine contractor John Flood built seawalls to shield properties on Chesapeake Bay from the wind and waves. But years later, when he went crabbing near the walls that he had installed, he found fewer crabs — and noticed a lack of native grasses and birds such as kingfisher. And he also learned that the seawalls were not doing a very good job keeping the bay at bay.

Flood: “I’ve seen bulkhead sections in people’s living rooms after hurricanes, along with the boats they had tied to their docks.”

Today, he creates living shorelines, which use stone, native plants, oyster beds, and other methods to naturally fortify shorelines against severe storms and rising seas.

Flood: “And I’ve installed living shorelines that looked like deserts of sand after a hurricane, then watched them explode into healthy green marsh the next spring.”

Flood’s work shows that re-establishing marshes and vegetation strengthens shorelines and supports wildlife; and that well-placed stone can break up the waves that erode beaches.

Maryland now requires living shorelines for erosion control and property protection. And around the world, many scientists and governments are recognizing that to safeguard our shores, Mother Nature really does know best.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: North-facing native plants form living shoreline on Moran Creek in Lancaster County, Va. (Credit: Kathy Powell). Copyright protected.

More Resources
Living Shoreline Protection Act of 2008

Sara Peach

Sara Peach is the Senior Editor of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist, and...