What is Shore Protection?

Mary McMahon

Shore protection is a form of environmental policy designed to address eroding or otherwise damaged shoreline, as well as changes to navigable waterways that make them unsafe or difficult to use. Programs designed to protect shorelines must balance the need to preserve the natural environment, recognizing that shorelines do change naturally over time, with the needs of human populations that want to use shores for recreation and other activities. Government agencies are usually in charge of shore protection, although community organizations may also play a role.

Beaches may benefit from shore protection.
Beaches may benefit from shore protection.

There are a number of approaches that people can use to protect shorelines or make them more useful for human activities. Some, like groins and jetties, are very old. Human populations have been shaping and controlling the shoreline for centuries with various structures that break waves, trap water, prevent the erosion of sand, and provide a space for docking boats and other craft.

Shore protection is designed to maintain beaches for people to enjoy.
Shore protection is designed to maintain beaches for people to enjoy.

Beyond installing structures that help to control the shoreline, it is also possible to add sand or stones to create barriers or restore a beach, establish plantings to prevent erosion, and use other nonstructural means for beach control. The goal of shore protection is usually to help a beach maintain its size, composition, and shape. In addition to providing a space for people to enjoy the shoreline, beaches also create a break for waves, protecting structures adjacent to the beach.

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Shore protection can reduce sediment levels in rivers and streams.
Shore protection can reduce sediment levels in rivers and streams.

Navigable waterways like bays and rivers can also benefit from shore protection. Addressing erosion reduces the amount of sediment that settles into waterways and also increases safety by limiting rogue waves and other potential navigation hazards. Shore protection also protects wildlife that might otherwise be vulnerable to habitat pressures caused by erosion, invasive plants, and rough seas.

When a shore protection program is proposed, a number of evaluations are performed. Scientists determine if the project is needed and attempt to estimate the possible impact of the program with the goal of weighing the costs and benefits to make a decision about whether to proceed. They can also develop several options for communities and government regulators to choose from.

There is usually a public comment period on shore protection programs. People who are interested in providing input can contact government agencies to express preference for specific plans or to argue against any type of intervention. Public meetings also provide an opportunity to interact with people involved in the program, ask questions, and offer feedback.

Shorelines can change naturally over time without any human interference.
Shorelines can change naturally over time without any human interference.

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Discussion Comments


@Ana1234 - I suppose people have their homes and shore rentals which cost a lot of money and they don't want to abandon them. There are definitely options as long as there is money to be spent.

I know there are definitely places where the local council just ships in a whole lot of sand every year to recreate a beach where there is no natural beach any longer.

I don't know about environmental impacts, but in some ways I think this might be a good solution. It helps to centralize beach goers so that they aren't wandering all over the country to more isolated places.


@clintflint - It depends on why the erosion is happening in the first place. Sometimes planting grasses and things will help, but sometimes it's got something to do with the way the land is shaped and the tides work. In that case you might be able to use erosion control mats or maybe put a sand bar in the right place, but often there's nothing that can be done but accept that the land is always going to be worn away in that place.


I took an environmental studies class a while ago and I remember that the professor was very dismissive of most attempts at shore protection. In his opinion they often spent millions on building structures like sea walls that looked good and intuitively people thought they would do something to hold back the encroaching water, but were ultimately useless and, if anything, would only stop the inevitable for a few years.

He always encouraged looking at natural systems to figure out how to stop erosion (although sometimes it was going to happen no matter what people did). I think one of the things he said was better was to plant a lot of shore adapted plants in the dunes to help with slope erosion control.

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