Tag Archive: Coastal

Coastal Erosion–a problem with new solutions

Coastal Erosion–a problem with new solutions

Life on the Gulf Coast can be beautiful, but has its share of complications. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Life on the coast has tremendous benefits; steady sea breezes, gorgeous beaches, plentiful fishing and paddling opportunities. Nevertheless, there are definite downsides to living along it, too. Besides storms like Hurricane Harvey making semi-regular appearances, our proximity to the water can make us more vulnerable to flooding and waterborne hazards ranging from bacteria to jellyfish. One year-round problem for those living directly on a shoreline is erosion. Causes for shoreline erosion are wide-ranging; heavy boat traffic, foot traffic, storms, lack of vegetation with anchoring roots, and sea level rise.


Many homeowners experiencing loss of property due to erosion unwittingly contribute to it by installing seawalls. When incoming waves hit the hard surface of the wall, energy reflects back and moves down the coast. Often, an adjacent homeowner will experience increased erosion and bank scouring after a neighboring property installs a seawall. This will often lead that neighbor to install a seawall themselves, transferring the problem further.

Erosion can damage root systems of shoreline trees and grasses. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Currently, south Louisiana is experiencing significant coastal erosion and wetlands losses. The problem is compounded by several factors, including canals dredged by oil companies, which damage and break up large patches of the marsh. Subsidence, in which the land is literally sinking under the sea, is happening due to a reduced load of sediment coming down the Mississippi River. Sea level rise has contributed to erosion, and most recently, an invasive insect has caused large-scale death of over 100,000 acres of Roseau cane (Phragmites australis). Add the residual impacts from the oil spill, and you can understand the complexity of the situation.


Luckily, there are ways to address coastal erosion, on both the small and large scale. On Gulf and Atlantic beaches, numerous coastal communities have invested millions in beach renourishment, in which offshore sand is barged to the coast to lengthen and deepen beaches. This practice, while common, can be controversial because of the cost and risk of beaches washing out during storms and regular tides. However, as long as tourism is the #1 economic driver in the state, the return on investment seems to be worth it.


On quieter waters like bays and bayous, living shorelines have “taken root” as a popular method of restoring property and stabilizing shorelines. This involves planting marsh grasses along a sandy shore, often with oyster or rock breakwaters placed waterward to slow down wave energy, and allow newly planted grasses to take root.


Locally in Bayou Grande, a group of neighbors were experiencing shoreline erosion.  Over a span of 50 years, the property owners used a patchwork of legally installed seawalls, bulkheads, rip rap piles, private boat ramps, piers, mooring poles and just about anything else one can imagine, to reduce the problem. Over time, the seawalls and bulkheads failed, lowering the property value of the very property they were meant to protect and increasing noticeable physical damage to the adjacent properties.”


Project Greenshores is a large-scale living shoreline project in Pensacola. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

In 2011, a group of neighboring property owners along the bayou decided to take action. After considering many repair options, the neighbors decided to pursue a living shoreline based on aesthetics, long-term viability, installation cost, maintenance cost, storm damage mitigation and feasibility of installation. By 2017, the living shoreline was constructed.  Oyster shell piles were placed to slow down wave energy as it approached the transition zone from the long fetch across the bayou, while uplands damage was repaired and native marsh grasses and uplands plants were restored to slow down freshwater as it flowed towards the bayou.  Sand is now accruing as opposed to eroding along the shoreline.  Wading shorebirds are now a constant companion and live oysters are appearing along the entire 1,200-foot length.  Additionally the living shoreline solution provided access to resources, volunteer help, and property owner sweat equity opportunities that otherwise would have been unavailable.  An attribute that has surprisingly appeared – waterfront property owners are now able to keep their nicely manicured lawns down to within 30 feet of the water’s edge.  At that point, the landscape immediately switches back to native marsh plants, which creates a quite robust and attractive intersection. (Text and information courtesy Charles Lurton).


Successes like these all over the state have led the Florida Master Naturalist Program to offer a new special topics course on “Coastal Shoreline Restoration” which provides training in the restoration of living shorelines, oyster reefs, mangroves, and salt marsh, with focus on ecology, benefits, methods, and monitoring techniques.  Keep an eye out for this course being offered near you. If you are curious about living shorelines and want to know more, reach out to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Ecosystem Restoration section for help and read through this  online document.




Author: Carrie Stevenson – ctsteven@ufl.edu

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/08/25/coastal-erosion-a-problem-with-new-solutions/

Landscaping in Coastal Areas

Landscaping in Coastal Areas

Salt shear and onshore breezes often cause coastal maritime forests to grow at a slant away from the coast. Credit: Florida Master Naturalist Program

People from other parts of the country often move into Florida with expectations of their landscape beyond its capabilities. Those gorgeous peonies that grew up north or the perfect tomatoes they grew in California seem to wither in the heat or succumb to any number of insect or fungal pests. Adapting to our conditions takes listening to those with more experience, changing old habits or varieties and definitely adjusting expectations. Once you understand what the north Florida climate requires, you might be pleasantly surprised with a bumper crop of lemons or a thriving hibiscus that would never have worked in Michigan.

The same idea applies to landscaping on the beach or near areas of saltwater. Particularly on barrier islands like Perdido Key, Santa Rosa Island, and the coastal islands around Apalachicola, the influence of salt spray and hot, dry, sandy soils cannot be underestimated. If you have ever looked closely at the shape of the mature oak trees on the back sides of sand dunes, you’ll notice they’re shorter and tend to lean and grow away from the beach. This is due partially to the onshore breeze that steadily blows off the water, but also due to a phenomenon called salt shear. Salt shear occurs in areas where breaking waves release salt, which evaporates from water droplets and blows into the landscape. Unless specifically adapted to living in a saline environment, the salt can halt growth of the plants receiving the bulk of the spray. Many plants adapt to this by sealing up any vulnerable growing tips and sending energy for growth to the other side, resulting in a sloped shape. Land further inland from the Gulf will have consecutively less salt spray to endure.

Keep in mind that the soil on a barrier island is highly porous; it does not hold water nor nutrients well. The best option is to look at what grows there naturally, and select some of the most attractive and hardy choices for a home or commercial landscape. Knowing that a residence or commercial business is located within these environmental conditions, the best way to ensure success is to work with your surroundings instead of against them.

Click to view slideshow.

Below are a handful salt-tolerant options to consider.

Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis): The yellow-blooming beach or dune sunflower will reseed and spread along as a hardy groundcover.

Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris): Muhly grass is a native clumping grass commonly used in Florida landscapes. It has showy pinkish-purple blooms in mid-fall.

Beach cordgrass (Spartina patens): Beach cordgrass is a native grass that serves as a sand stabilizer. While not particularly showy, it can serve as a good foundation plant.

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens): These evergreen shrubs are extraordinarily hearty and long-lived. They produce a fruit that is an important food source for wildlife.

False rosemary (Conradina canescens): This evergreen shrub blooms purple, attracts wildlife, and is a hardy native species.

Firebush (Hamelia patens): Firebush has long-lasting red blooms that attract hummingbirds and native butterflies.

Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella): These colorful wildflowers attract pollinators like bees and butterflies and are extremely drought and salt tolerant.

Sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa): This ground-running plant has colorful, spherical pink blooms and attracts bees. The delicate leaves of the plant are sensitive to touch, and will fold up when touched.


For more information on salt-tolerant coastal plants and trees in our area along with cold-tolerant palms, contact your local Extension agent or Native Plant Society.


Author: Carrie Stevenson – ctsteven@ufl.edu

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/06/15/landscaping-in-coastal-areas/

The International Coastal Clean Up is Coming in September – how are we doing with marine debris in our area?

The International Coastal Clean Up is Coming in September – how are we doing with marine debris in our area?

People have been trying to do something about marine debris, and solid waste in general, since we saw the commercial of the crying Indian in the early ‘70’s. Have we made any improvement?

A variety of plastics ends up in the Gulf. Each is a potential problem for marine life. Photo: Rick O'Connor

A variety of plastics ends up in the Gulf. Each is a potential problem for marine life. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Yes… but there are still problems to deal with.


Literally millions of tons of solid waste are produced and disposed of each year. According to the 16th edition of Living in the Environment by G. Tyler Miller and Scott Spoolman (2011), Americans generate 2.5 million tons of solid waste each year.  This total could fill enough garbage trucks to circle the earth 8 times – bumper to bumper.  Though we only make up 4.6% of the world’s population we generate 33% of world’s solid waste.  Scientists have been recommending that we reduce the amount of solid waste we produce for some time… but we are not.


So what are we going to do about the problem?


Well, if you are not going to reduce the amount generated you have basically three choices

  1. Bury it
  2. Burn it
  3. Recycle it

Currently Americans are burying about 54% of their solid waste, 25% is recycled, 14% is incinerated, 7% is composted. Comparing our recycling efforts to other nations we are not doing too bad, but there is room for improvement – there is actually a need to improve.  The majority of the solid waste we throw away actually ends up in the environment.  It has been determined that 80% of the plastics in the ocean come from land – and much of this was thrown in the trash by people who were doing the right thing.


To reduce waste, we need to know what it is we are throwing away. According to Miller and Spoolman the top five items we throw away are:

  1. Paper/cardboard – 37%
  2. Yard waste – 12%
  3. Food – 11%
  4. Plastics – 11%
  5. Metal – 8%

Most of these can be recycled or composted – should be easy – but we are not doing it as often as we should.


What about local marine debris?


I have been working with the local group OCEAN HOUR.  Ocean Hour cleans a shoreline somewhere in the Escambia / Santa Rosa area every weekend (check out their Facebook page or the Escambia County Extension website to know where).  Volunteers come out to help remove the waste and Ocean Hour provides buckets, tongs, and gloves for them to do so.  Sea Grant, Escambia County, and students from local schools help to gather data from what they are collecting.


TOP FIVE ITEMS 2015 2016


1 Cigarette butts Cigarette butts


2 Food wrappers Foam


3 Plastic bottles Plastic bottles


4 Plastic pieces Glass bottles


5 Foam Food wrappers




There has been a lot of concern about plastics in the environment. Paper, food, and yard waste are oxygen demanding waste, and need to be reduced, but their life span in the ocean is much shorter than plastic.  Plastics are made using large polymers produced while refining oil and natural gas.  There are about 46 different types and many products are a mix of different polymers.  This actually makes some forms difficult, and costly, to recycle.  Most counties can recycle #1 and #2 forms of plastic.  Water bottles are made from a form of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET).  These are easier and less costly to recycle than some other forms but they must be disposed of separately.  One PVC bottle in a truck load of plastic water bottles will keep the entire truck load from being recycled.

Trash 1

Another issue, which you will be hearing more about this month, are microplastics.  Much of the plastic that reaches the ocean will break down due the sun and the ocean elements.  These bring on their own problems – read more about microplastics on this website or the link above.


We certainly encourage all folks who live in the panhandle, or who are visiting, to reduce the amount of solid waste they generate – recycle or compost what you can – and participate in community cleans ups – such as those put on by Ocean Hour.  The International Coastal Clean Up will be September 17.  Check the Escambia County website for locations.  We can do this!


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/09/02/the-international-coastal-clean-up-is-coming-in-september-how-are-we-doing-with-marine-debris-in-our-area/

Panhandle Outdoors: St. Joseph Bay Coastal Ecosystem Water School

Panhandle Outdoors: St. Joseph Bay Coastal Ecosystem Water School

polNorthwest Florida is considered one of the top six biodiversity hotspots in the country. The reasons why begin with our unique water features.  The University of Florida IFAS Extension faculty are expanding their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors Live!” field trips into two-day events for 2016. They will include presentations as well as traditional excursions to explore and learn about the Panhandle’s signature aquatic ecosystems.

This upcoming two-day, September 7 & 8,  educational adventure is based at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve near the coastal town of Port. St. Joe, Florida. It includes field tours of unique coastal uplands, presentations by scientists and naturalists, and a kayak trip to explore the underwater life of the seagrass beds.

The St. Joseph Bay Ecosystem is home to one of the richest concentrations of marine grasses along the Northern Gulf Coast. It supports an amazing diversity of fish, aquatic invertebrates and birds. Other local habitats of significance include nesting beaches of loggerhead sea turtles, salt marshes that support secretive marsh birds, and pine flatwoods uplands.  


Join us to explore these waters and learn more about the Panhandle’s hidden ecological treasures!

There are several ticket options for this water school to choose from at Eventbrite.com.  For more information please contact Erik Lovestrand at 850-653-9337 or elovestrand@ufl.edu and download this printer friendly flyer:  Panhandle Outdoors St. Joseph Bay 2016



Author: admin – webmaster@ifas.ufl.edu


Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/07/23/panhandle-outdoors-st-joseph-bay-coastal-ecosystem-water-school/

Panhandle Florida Master Naturalist graduates opt to use living shorelines to enhance habitat and protect their coastal properties.

Panhandle Florida Master Naturalist graduates opt to use living shorelines to enhance habitat and protect their coastal properties.

FMNP_Main_IFAS_Vert_Color_thumbThe mission of the Florida Master Naturalist program (FMNP) is to promote awareness, understanding and respect of Florida’s natural environment. FMNP graduates, Paul Bennett and Charlie Lurton have both worked diligently through the permitting process to place living shorelines consisting of oyster shell bags and marsh plants along their coastal properties.

Living Shorelines incorporate a range of natural structures to protect coastal shorelines from erosion and enhance habitat for wildlife. Oyster shell bags, biologs, plants and sand fill may be used or a combination of natural materials may be used in a living shoreline project. These projects provide “soft” shoreline protection that offers economic and ecological benefits to the property owner. They are recommended for use in low wave and erosional settings.

In higher wave energy areas, seawalls and bulkheads may be required for shoreline protection. These types of projects “harden” the shoreline, and do not allow for intertidal habitat and eliminate the natural slope of the shoreline. “Harden” projects can have a detrimental effect on nearby properties as wave energy is deflected and can increase erosion nearby, alter sand movement and decrease intertidal habitat.

Both Mr. Bennet and Mr. Lurton realized the importance and benefits of shoreline protection using natural materials, both men attributed this knowledge to their experiences in the FMNP. The FMNP graduates worked with the local branch of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Florida Coastal Office, Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves, to obtain funding and permits for the projects. DEP’s Florida Coastal Office has worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Services’ Coastal Program to promote and support living shoreline projects across the Panhandle.


Oyster reef breakwater along the Shoreline of Bayou Grande, Charlie Lurton’s project. Photo credit: Zachary Shang

Paul B

Installing the oyster reef breakwater along the shoreline of Paul Bennett in East Bay, Santa Rosa County, FL. Photo Credit: Beth Fugate

Mr. Lurton worked with seven of his neighbors to create 1,200 linear feet of shoreline. This project on Bayou Grande in Escambia County incorporated 39 oyster reefs, each built of 200 bags of recycled oyster shells. Each bag of recycled oyster shell weighs approximately twenty pounds for a total of 78 tons of shell! 11,300 native grasses and salt tolerant plants will be installed along the shoreline this year.

Mr. Bennet’s project along East Bay in Santa Rosa County consists of 5 reefs built along the mouth of a freshwater marsh located on his property for a total of 10 tons of shell. DEP’s Florida Coastal Office will determine if native grasses and plants are needed for the project in the future.

“The conversation for both of these projects started years before we were able install any materials so it’s rewarding to see them take hold,” said Zachary Schang, environmental specialist with the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves. “It was in large part due to the persistence of the property owners who wanted to deal with a natural problem using a natural solution.”

These types of habitat restoration projects allow for ecological and economic benefits for the property owners. The Fl. Master Naturalist Program promotes understanding and awareness of natural resources, these two graduates have demonstrated what it means to be a FMN.

Watch this newsletter for more about the FMNP and FMNP graduates. For more information about the FMNP and classes being offered in your area, check out http://www.masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu/.








Author: Chris Verlinde – chrismv@ufl.edu

Chris Verlinde

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/01/19/panhandle-florida-master-naturalist-graduates-opt-to-use-living-shorelines-to-enhance-habitat-and-protect-their-coastal-properties/

Florida’s Wildlife Conservations Policy for Predicted Coastal Habitat Loss Problems

Florida’s Wildlife Conservations Policy for Predicted Coastal Habitat Loss Problems

"Within the past five years, nine of the 14 villages in Nunavik in northernmost Quebec have had to install cooling systems at community ice hockey arenas to keep the rinks cold during winter.“ -The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions

“Within the past five years, nine of the 14 villages in Nunavik in northernmost Quebec have had to install cooling systems at community ice hockey arenas to keep the rinks cold during winter.“
– The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions

Have you wondered how Florida’s wildlife conservation policy planners and habitat managers are responding to the new management challenge of predicted coastal habitat loss from sea level rise? And how that overlays on predicted habitat loss from a 50-year doubling of Florida’s human population? Are the model predictions for both trends reliable enough to give planners a platform for recommending actions to ensure a habitable Florida for wildlife and for our grandchildren?

It’s a daunting task. The latest reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [ http://www.floridaclimateinstitute-uf.org/new-ipcc-report-climate-change-2014-impacts-adaptation-and-vulnerability/ ] serve to compress our “breathing room” of time to shift gears into planning for a “multiple-whammy” future – a future that just a decade ago, few natural resource managers knew they would soon need to anticipate. How do we juggle explosive population growth, accelerating freshwater depletion, and rapid climate change? What initiatives and efforts are underway?

To answer this question, let’s turn to Dr Thomas Eason, Director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Dr Eason gave a talk on campus a year ago at the UF/IFAS conference, “Sustaining Economies and Natural Resources in a Changing World.” His 25-minute presentation, “Florida Fish and Wildlife – Adapting to a Changing World,” was recorded and posted at [ http://training.ifas.ufl.edu/FCI2013/Session4_Natural_Resources_Eason/main.htm ]

Eason noted that globally, climate change is predicted to result in the extinction of 10-40% of all wildlife species. FWC has generated vulnerability assessments for a first suite of rare and imperiled species, and some non-native invasive exotic species as well. Analysis has shown that for many non-native species in Florida, climate change will create new habitats, and they will expand their range, while imperiled species will more likely experience shrinkage of habitat that is already inadequate.

Eason noted that sea level rise will directly impact “tens of thousands” of acres of Florida habitat, and that consideration of secondary and tertiary impacts had yet to be addressed by habitat planners. Species adaptation planning has been undertaken in collaboration with GeoAdaptive (formerly MIT). Thus far, the initiative includes future habitat modeling for six South Florida species for which FWC has good data, under three different scenarios for sea level rise.

Eason concluded with the metaphor that society (and the natural resource conservation professions) are in a car he called “Business-as-Usual” (BAU) colliding in slow motion with a wall (future reality), and that even if we don’t know it yet, BAU is “already blowing up” because “humans have put things in motion that are not going to stop”(changes in technology, demographics, the economy and climate) that will make our world 50 years hence radically different from today’s world.


Author: sheftall – sheftall@ufl.edu

Wiliam (Will) Sheftall is the Natural Resources Extension Agent for Leon County


Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2014/10/26/floridas-wildlife-conservations-policy-for-predicted-coastal-habitat-loss-problems/