The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (Alliance) wrapped up the 11th annual All Hands meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi this week. Much progress was made identifying new actions toward healthy ecosystems. The Alliance was pleased to be a part of Restore America’s Estuaries’ release of, “Living Shorelines: From Barriers to Opportunities.” This new report provides a national assessment of institutional barriers that are preventing broader use of living shorelines and provides clear recommendations and strategies to move forward.

RAEInformation from this comprehensive work will be very useful to Alliance partners working in habitat restoration. The report identifies three major obstacles to broader use of living shorelines: 1) institutional inertia; 2) lack of a broader planning context; and 3) lack of an advocate. To address these obstacles, the report identifies four broad strategies, including: 1) education and outreach; 2) regulatory reform; 3) improve institutional capacity; and 4) public agencies as role models. Each strategy identifies a number of specific and actionable recommendations for decision and policy makers.

“We know what we need to do and now it’s time to make progress,” said Jeff Benoit, president and CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. “Historically we have managed our shorelines by building hard structures like seawalls and bulkheads, which actually cause more erosion and create a false sense of security because when they fail, they increase flooding and risk to lives and property.”

Report authors include five experts in living shorelines policy, including those from the Gulf of Mexico. The authors include Restore America’s Estuaries, North Carolina Coastal Federation, American Littoral Society, Scheda Ecological Associates, and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.

“We’ve been using living shorelines for years because they work to protect shorelines in a cost-effective way,” said Thomas Ries, Executive Vice President of Scheda Ecological Associates and report team member. “We’ve had consistent challenges in getting them on the ground, so this report is critical in finding solutions. Living shorelines are a win-win approach: property owners get the reassurance they want and bays and estuaries are healthier.”

Continuing to place walls around our shorelines, particularly in coastal bays, will end up drowning coastal habitat critical for fisheries production and resulting in a “bathtub effect” where water will simply slosh back and forth. Mobile Bay, Alabama is often cited as a Gulf coast estuary with this growing problem. Science shows that a better approach is to use living shorelines to manage shorelines, protecting them from erosion while allowing them to maintain their ecological functions.

Learn more about Restore Americas Estuaries.