Putting Living Shorelines in Reach
“Marshes are an iconic landscape for South Carolina; we like our grass and our pluff mud,” says Abigail Locatis Prochaska, CTP coordinator at the ACE Basin Reserve. “If all you could see was open water along the coast, you would know something is wrong.”
To protect their cherished marshes, many South Carolina communities are exploring the use of living shorelines—stabilization measures made from natural materials. These nature-based installations not only protect marshes, they reduce erosion, create fish habitat, and boost property values.
Until recently, however, the long and challenging path to receiving a permit discouraged their use. Now, thanks to the ACE Basin and North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserves and partners, South Carolina communities have a streamlined, science-based process for securing the permits they need to install living shorelines throughout the state.
“Everyone could see the benefits of living shorelines,” says Locatis Prochaska, “there just wasn’t a clear path for making them happen.”
That’s why in 2015, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) asked the Reserve and their state partner, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), for evidence that living shorelines work.
With a grant from the NERRS Science Collaborative and support from partners, the team set up test sites with different kinds of living shorelines—some on the Reserves—to see which types would be most effective in stabilizing the shoreline. These pilots were put to the test as four hurricanes and several tropical storms hit South Carolina in the next five years. Oyster-based shorelines did particularly well.
“Not only do the living shorelines cost less than bulkheads to install,” says Locatis Prochaska, “there’s less damage to contend with after a storm event, which saves more money in the long term. People can see that; they haven’t been a hard sell in South Carolina.”
The team’s findings were synthesized into a summary guidance document, which led to the development of new regulations recently passed by the South Carolina State Legislature in 2021. Permit applications are in the new pipeline and the first permits using this process are expected to be issued this summer.
“The new permitting process provides many opportunities for our community to pursue nature-based alternatives for restoring and enhancing our tidal wetlands,” says Lee Bundrick, senior ecological health & conservation coordinator at the Kiawah Conservancy, an organization involved in identifying and prioritizing areas for living shorelines. “We applaud the ACE Basin Reserve’s efforts to pave the way for expansion of these practices throughout the state’s coastal region.”
With a new permitting process in place, the ACE Basin Reserve’s Coastal Training Program and partners have redoubled efforts to make sure marine contractors, local governments, educators, and other stakeholders have the information they need. They are offering online trainings, field visits to the test sites, and workshops to ensure people understand the new regulations and how to implement the living shoreline designs used by the research team. South Carolina DNR will continue to monitor the test sites, looking forways to improve designs.
This project was made possible due to strong partnerships between the ACE Basin Reserve, North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve, Clemson Cooperative Extension, The Nature Conservancy, Coastal Conservation League, South Carolina DNR, and South Carolina DHEC.