Virginia Living Shorelines Initiative

Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) was directed by SB 964 in 2011 to develop and implement a general permit regulation that authorizes and encourages the use of living shorelines as the preferred alternative for stabilizing tidal shorelines. In 2015 and again in 2017 the VMRC established permitting regulations pursuant to SB 964. The Living Shoreline Group 1 (2015) and 2 (2017) General Permits for Certain Shoreline Treatments are regulations which streamline the permitting process incentivizing property owners to utilize a living shoreline approach to manage shoreline erosion, and promote tidal wetland vegetation to restore or enhance ecosystem services.

VMRC, in cooperation with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and with technical assistance from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS),  established the Living Shorelines Initiative to support natural adaptation solutions along Virginia's coast. The initiative is an effort aimed at decreasing shoreline hardening so as to allow wetlands to naturally migrate inland as sea levels rise. The program promotes the use of nonstructural or "hybrid" approaches to shoreline stabilization and can preserve, and in some cases expand, wetlands and natural shoreline features in the face of rising sea levels.

Living shorelines promote alternatives to armoring shorelines with hard structures such as bulkheads and stone revetments, which eliminate wetlands and beaches. Alternatives include establishing oyster reefs, planting vegetation, such as marsh and dune grass, or using a combination of vegetation and strategically placed low-profile barriers such as rocks or wood.

The Living Shoreline Group 1 and Group 2 General Permits authorize the placement of certain specified sand fill, fiber logs, fiber mats, shell bags, and temporary grazing protection in tidal wetlands, landward of mean low water, to improve the growing conditions for wetland vegetation. The establishment of oysters and ribbed mussels also may be incorporated into the project design. The 2017 Group 2 General Permit authorizes additional living shoreline treatments involving Submerged Lands, Tidal Wetlands, or Coastal Primary Sand Dunes and Beaches. 


Virginia has nearly 5,000 miles of shoreline, marshes, beaches, and tidal mudflats which provide habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. These marshes and wetlands are threatened due to relative sea level rise caused by climate change, coastal subsidence (or sinking) and man-made impacts. In Virginia, an average of 16 to 18 miles of new shoreline structures were permitted each year from 2000 to 2007. Armoring the shorelines with bulkheads or seawalls threatens landscapes, public access, recreational opportunities, natural habitats, water quality, and contributes to erosion of adjacent shorelines. These factors could reduce the number of fish, crabs, and birds that depend on coastal habitats.


Publication Date: 2011

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