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Sustainable Shorelines generates info about best shoreline management options preserving ecology through adapting to climate change impacts.



Like coastal communities everywhere, the communities along the Hudson River are increasingly vulnerable to a changing climate and the rising sea levels, extreme storms, and intense flooding that come with it. Nearly half of the Hudson River shoreline is armored by structures like bulkheads and rock revetments to protect from battering by tides, ice, storms, and human activity.

The Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve has been collecting information on soft shoreline techniques through the Sustainable Shorelines Project. The project identifies techniques that have the potential to maintain and enhance important ecological services, provide greater resilience to the physical forces of climate change, increase biodiversity, improve habitat quality, and be cost-competitive with traditional approaches along the unique tidal estuary system of the Hudson River.

As an anticipatory adaptation measure, we advocate protecting coastal community shoreline property using natural and nature-based features. Nature-based shoreline stabilization techniques include a range from vegetated slopes with toe protection to ecologically enhanced bulkheads, trending from green to grey-green. We agree that grey (traditional) approaches may be necessary in some cases but that we want to push towards ecologically enhanced grey and where appropriate green. 

The Sustainable Shorelines Project has a new phase underway to assess the performance of innovative grey-green shoreline infrastructure. The current proposal outlined here is to continue to encourage land managers, shoreline land owners, and engineers to utilize the performance protocol for long-term study and adaptive management, and to broaden the use of the sustainable shoreline designs to more regions outside of the Hudson River area.

Esopus Meadows Sustainable Shoreline Site

Photo of Esopus Meadows Preserve demonstration site by Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve

Category of the action

Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change

What actions do you propose?

We will be assessing the ecological and physical performance of Sustainable Shoreline designs.

  • Collect local data on ecological and physical performance of sustainable (soft) shoreline designs.
  • Establish baseline condition of these shoreline treatments before the next major storm.
  • Field-validate assessment tools for rapidly determining shoreline performance.
  • Develop a manual of guidance on the appropriate use of the assessment tools.
  • Administer field-based workshops on applying the assessment tools to enable local and regional stewards and engineers to track shoreline performance and quantify the benefits and suitability of actual techniques.


Land stewards and engineers can have baseline data on the condition of their nature-based shoreline site so, for example, when a major storm occurs they will be able to measure how the structure fared and compare performance to that of traditional hardened shoreline protection. Engineers, landscape architects, and other decision makers can have more confidence in suggesting nature-based or soft shoreline treatments to coastal landowners and land managers.

The information is being shared with municipalities and the state, as well as other states. The findings of the Sustainable Shorelines Project have been communicated to shoreline managers in NH, CT, NJ and DE in the past, and it is important to provide new information with a wider scope to more decision makers. More work is needed to incentivize the use of the performance protocol after it is created to track shoreline efficacy to future changes and to advocate for creating more sustainable shorelines.

Who will take these actions?

These actions will require the endorsement and effort of the following stakeholders:

  • Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve
  • Engineering firms
  • Landscape architects
  • Research universities
  • Shoreline land owners
  • Land managers of public land
  • Towns and communities along the Hudson
  • State policy makers
  • Advocacy groups



These diverse stakeholders also make up the members of our advisory committee and we rely on them in a collaborative process to give us advice, feedback and mid-course corrections. This collaborative process is both innovative and has proved extremely instructive.

This effort is led by the New York State Department of Environmental Protection's Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve, Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies and Stevens Institute of Technology. The Consensus Building Institute facilitates the project.

Where will these actions be taken?

These actions will occur in the Hudson River Valley from the shorelines of Tappan Zee to Troy, NY, including tidal tributary streams.

We think that the information collected will be extremely useful for climate change adaptation in other areas with tidal estuaries like the Hudson. With advocacy, training, and stakeholder buy-in, we hope that the reach of these actions will be extended to other coastal areas.

What are other key benefits?

  • Increase the natural adaptive capacity of shorelines for communities along the Hudson River
  • Attenuate storm surge with marsh and riparian plantings
  • Decrease flooding through the water-storage capacity of tidal wetlands and softened, permeable land
  • Increase pathways for wetland migration by replacing bulkheads and revetments with natural features
  • Decrease the amount of shoreline hardening of the Hudson River
  • Provide alternative options to bulkheads and rip rap revetments
  • Increase coastal greenery, which adds to beauty, takes in carbon dioxide, and provides habitat
  • Add diversity of texture from rocks, plants and shoreline debris (wrack) which provides habitat for invertebrates and food source for shorebirds, thus increasing biodiversity

What are the proposal’s costs?

Proposal costs

The design of the Performance Protocol has already been funded for three years at about $100,000 a year for research staff, overhead, supplies, and travel to sites along the Hudson. We believe that continuing and expanding the project's reach after 3 years with research, advocacy, and training will cost about $50,000 a year.

Cost comparison of Sustainable Shorelines design

The cost of implementing Sustainable Shorelines designs for a property owner have been studied and are cost-competitive with traditional shoreline protection.

See: Rella, A. & Miller, J. (2012). A Comparative Cost Analysis of Ten Shore Protection Approaches at Three Sites Under Two Sea Level Rise Scenarios.

Time line

  • Short term: stakeholder buy-in of techniques, studies on sustainable shoreline efficacy during hurricanes and ongoing sea level rise, replanting and fixing of shorelines in case of damage; share information so softer solutions are installed for repairs from Hurricane Sandy (to combat in-kind replacement of hard structures which is often the easier route); share information with other estuaries along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts through National Estuarine Research Reserve System, research and advocacy groups.
  • Medium term: continued advocacy for the installation of sustainable shorelines, continued study of shoreline efficacy, replanting and fixing of shorelines in case of damage; buy-in from other coasts, possibly even globally for coastal areas with similar wave energy regimes and environments; research on multiple lines of defense, including hybrid approaches for heavily populated areas.
  • Long term: advocacy for the purchase of public land inland of sustainable shorelines because of sea level rise-caused inundation; continued building, restoring, and adaptive management as research develops and conditions change dynamically.

Related proposals




References and prior work:

Eroded Shore before

Eroded Shoreline in Dockside, NY (currently)

Proposed Dockside Site

Example of incorporating sea-level rise projections for 2020 and 2050 into design in Dockside, NY. From Milone and MacBroom (2014)