Living shorelines, not bulkheads, better solution to erosion

By on November 27, 2017

Living shorelines and bulkheads (background) both provide erosion control, with different ecological functions for coastal ecosystems. (Rachel Gittman)

What’s the best way to prevent shoreline erosion?

Building a bulkhead may not be the best answer, according to Dr. Rachel Gittman, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at East Carolina University.

Instead, her research has revealed that alternative shore protection methods, such as living shorelines, are better for the environment and more resilient to erosion and damage from major storms.


Gittman will discuss her findings during a lecture, “Are We Engineering Away Our Natural Defenses Along North Carolina’s Coast?” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30 at the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese.

The lecture is part of the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute’s monthly “Science on the Sound”   series.

Gittman’s research focuses on understanding the extent, drivers, and ecological consequences of shoreline hardening, such as bulkheads, as well as evaluating alternative shore protection approaches, such as living shorelines.

The demand for coastal defense against storms has increased with population growth and development. Shoreline hardening, or building bulkheads, is designed to prevent erosion and property loss, but it can also alter coastal ecosystems.

Results from multi-year field studies and waterfront resident surveys in North Carolina suggest that living shorelines promote higher diversity and more abundant marine organisms, and recover more quickly from storm damage and erosion.


Gittman’s presentation will highlight a variety of erosion control strategies, both natural and engineered, and the benefits each brings to coastal systems.

The UNC Coastal Studies Institute is located at 850 N.C. 345 in Wanchese. The presentation is free and the public is welcomed and encouraged to attend.

The program will be streamed live at Coastal Studies Institute Outreach and the online audience will be able to ask questions through a chat room.



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