Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program

Living Shorelines

What is a living shoreline?

A living shoreline is an engineered coastal system that mimics a natural shoreline. The majority of the Chesapeake’s shoreline has lost its natural adaptability over the years due to human activity. This includes the loss of aquatic vegetation, the removal of tree and vegetated buffer areas in favor of lawn, and the artificial armoring of shorelines with stone or wooden bulkheads, among other activities. This combined with the effects of sea level rise and climate change led to much of the Chesapeake’s shorelines eroding more rapidly than usual in recent decades.

Living shorelines are an effective way to recreate natural conditions that allow our shorelines to be resilient and adaptive to change like they once were.

No two living shorelines are the same!

Different design elements come together to enhance the shoreline of interest. Living shorelines reduce erosion and create habitat for aquatic and/or tidal species such as horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, terrapins, and wading birds.

Check out a few living shoreline components in the infographic!


Are you interested in learning more about living shorelines or implementing a living shoreline in your community? Learn more about some of our projects below and get in touch with us!

Cape St. Claire       West River      St. Luke’s Episcopal Church


Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program

Cape St. Claire

The Cape St. Claire community has experienced severe erosion for many years averaging three feet of shoreline loss per year for decades.

In 2018, The Cape St. Claire Improvement Association partnered with the Alliance to install two living shorelines. The living shorelines limit erosion, provide habitat for native species, and protect community infrastructure. Installed in 2021, the main beach project is 970 feet long and created 8,000 square feet of new tidal marsh. Two stone breakwater structures break up wave energy before it reaches the shoreline, which reduces the erosive movement of shoreline materials. This is one of several ways in which living shorelines can mimic the adaptive shorelines that exist in natural conditions.

The second living shoreline at Lake Claire stabilized the barrier beach, established a native plant tidal wetland and dune community, and created in-water habitat oyster-seeded reef balls and root wads. This living shoreline, installed in 2022, protects Lake Claire, which is a tidal lake next to the Chesapeake Bay. Without the added protection of the living shoreline, the narrow inlet to Lake Claire would have eventually eroded away, eliminating the unique tidal lake habitat that it provided. This project improved shoreline stability and created aquatic and on-shore wildlife habitat.

Before & After at Cape St. Claire

cape st claire before_cropped-02-02 cape st claire after_cropped-02

Funding for these Cape St. Claire projects came from the Cape St. Claire Improvement Association, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Anne Arundel Bureau of Watershed Protection and Restoration, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and generous support from the state of Maryland. Many partners contributed to the success of this project, particularly Biohabitats, Inc., Sustainable Science, Shoreline Design, and the Little Magothy River Association.

West River

This living shoreline increased the resiliency of the West River United Methodist Center. The Maryland camp and retreat center serves thousands of youth each year.

This project replaced 760 linear feet of hardened shoreline with a living shoreline.

The shoreline includes four low-profile stone breakwaters and 130 feet of cobble beach. A regenerative stormwater conveyance system (RSC) replaced two stormwater pipes. The RSC infiltrates stormwater and creates wetland habitat.


This project helps the shoreline adapt to changing conditions due to climate change. It does so while maintaining the habitat component so vital to our native species. It will protect the shoreline from increasingly intense storms. This project was completed with funding from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund and Resiliency through Restoration Initiative. Other partners included Underwood & Associates and Sustainable Science.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

In 2018, the Alliance restored a stream and shoreline at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

Before restoration, stormwater would flood the church property in Annapolis, Maryland.

The stormwater carried nutrients and sediments that polluted nearby Back Creek.

This work restored critical habitat for a variety of native Chesapeake species.

Partners participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking of the project.

The project serves as an environmental literacy campus for the church and community. RiverWise Congregations funded the design and permitting of the project. Partners include Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, the Anne Arundel Watershed Stewards Academy, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund provided construction funding. The Episcopal Church’s United Thank Offering funded the environmental literacy campus features.


Get In Touch

Reach out to Laura Todd to learn more about the Alliance’s living shorelines work.