Performance of Natural Infrastructure and Nature-based Measures as Coastal Risk Reduction Features

This report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reviews the state of understanding of the coastal storm and sea level rise risk reduction capacity of various types of natural infrastructure. The summarized information was compiled from existing literature and participant input obtained during an expert workshop held in May 2015. 

EDF’s literature review and consultation with experts confirms that there is sufficient confidence in the ability of natural infrastructure and nature-based measures to reduce impacts of coastal storms and sea level rise to coastal communities - such that these approaches should be routinely considered as viable options by decision-makers.

The natural coastal protection measures analyzed and detailed in the report include:

  • Beach nourishment
  • Vegetated dunes
  • Barrier island restoration
  • Edging and sills (Living Shorelines of eel grass beds, low sills, oyster beds)
  • Oyster reefs
  • Coral reefs
  • Mangroves
  • Maritime forests
  • Coastal wetlands

Findings for each measure are presented in terms of:

- the methods of risk reduction;
- method’s strengths and weaknesses;
- uncertainties about utility for risk reduction and resilience;
- suitable conditions;
- performance factors/performance evaluation metrics/design metrics;
- capacity/limitations of method to keep pace with climate change;
- examples of sites where implemented; and
- the most catalytic/pressing research needs.


The report concludes, in part, that: "If one of our goals is to preserve existing natural coastal ecosystems over the next century and beyond, we must realize that this goal can only be met by allowing some shorelines to move. The best hope for coastal ecosystems will be finding an economically sound approach to letting some areas regain their natural, dynamic nature. We should pursue nature-based coastal protection as a supremely better alternative than large-scale hardening of our shores, and we must recognize that it will not be possible to hold every shoreline in place forever."




Publication Date: September 2015

Related Organizations:

  • Environmental Defense Fund


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Tool (general)


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