Through extensive research, demonstration, monitoring, and collaboration, the Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines Project has synthesized the following Best Management practices for shorelines that are resilient in storms, cost-effective, and low-maintenance.
Resilient in Storms
1. Preserve physical diversity.
Complex habitats usually support more species and ecological functions than simple ones. Resist the urge to grade everything smooth, use the same materials everywhere, and build straight shorelines. Shore zones with uneven topography, varied soils and vegetation, and irregular shorelines will likely provide better ecological value.
2. Resist tidiness.
Debris, such as driftwood and windrows of vegetation, provide perching spots for birds, cover for fish and other animals, nursery areas for young plants and wildlife, and food for the little animals that feed birds and fish. (But It’s ok to pick up garbage like plastic, paper, and glass!)
3. Don’t squeeze the shore zone.
Dredging or filling shallows and wet areas, building vertical walls, and destroying vegetation reduces ecological value. Avoid these practices whenever possible.
4. Prevent pollution.
When released into the shore zone, pollution can damage the shore zone itself and easily move into nearby waters. Avoid land uses in and adjacent to the shore zone that could release or spill pollutants. It’s also a good idea to use as little fertilizer and pesticide as possible in these areas.
5. Reduce wave damage.
Large waves, whether from the wind or passing boats, can damage shore zones. Offshore dredging and shoreline hardening can increase wave damage by removing the natural structures that absorb wave energy. Reduce the damaging effects of waves by limiting these activities, and consider imposing no-wake zones near sensitive shorelines.
6. Tread lightly.
Shore zones are popular places for fishing, swimming, bird-watching, boating, hiking, and other recreational activities. Unfortunately, these activities can cause damage by frightening away animals, trampling plants and animals, and eroding shores and soils. Watch for signs of overuse; consider protecting parts of your shore zone as refuges that restrict human activity, or prohibit some activities during sensitive times such as breeding seasons.
7. Don’t make dead ends.
Animals (and plant seeds, too) use shore zones as highways when migrating, seeking sites to nest or feed, or recolonizing areas that were disturbed by nature or humans. When we put sterile habitat like a seawall or a parking lot along the shore, or build walls or roads, we block those “highways” and damage shore zone biodiversity. Try to preserve continuity of habitat along the shore zone above and below the water line. Avoid building walls, curbs, and other barriers that block shore zone animals whenever possible.
8. Don’t make it so hard!
Many natural shore zones are made of a mixture of materials, including “soft” materials such as sand, mud, and gravel, which are often covered with vegetation. When we replace such soft materials with large stone, concrete, or steel, we change habitats and reflect waves, leading to erosion offshore and on adjacent properties. Where possible, try not to replace naturally soft shores with hard materials, and try to soften existing hard shorelines.
9. Give the shore room to move.
If you hem in a shore zone by building right up to its edges, it will be squeezed away when water levels rise and its ecological value will decline. Try to give shore zones room to move. While this is difficult in shore zones with homes and other valuable infrastructure, it is an important strategy to preserve ecological functioning in the face of rising water levels.
10. Be careful about building in the shore zone.
If you must build, reduce ecological impacts by using permeable materials that let water soak into the ground; minimizing roads, walls, and curbs that block animal movement; and limit bright lights that attract aquatic insects.