Living Shorelines


Over the years, South Carolina coastal property owners and other stakeholders have expressed an increased interest for options to naturally stabilize the shorelines within the estuarine environment. As a result, in 2016, DHEC embarked on a five-year strategy to develop a regulatory definition and project standards for living shorelines in South Carolina. The goal of the strategy was to allow for a more efficient authorization process for living shorelines and to help ensure a project’s design would accomplish its intended goals. Living shoreline regulations were developed in accordance with the South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), S.C. Code Section 1-23-10 et seq. Living shoreline regulations were introduced to the South Carolina General Assembly during the 2021 legislative session and became effective May 28, 2021.

The new regulations and project standards were based in part on lessons learned from a collaborative research project, Summary of Living Shoreline Research to Inform Regulatory Decision-Making in South Carolina, conducted by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and funded by the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) Science Collaborative. This multi-year project involved monitoring existing living shoreline installations, as well as installing and monitoring new and existing technologies under a range of conditions in the estuarine environment. DHEC also established a South Carolina Living Shorelines Working Group to help inform development of regulations and project standards. The Working Group included representatives from federal, state, and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations.

What is a Living Shoreline?

Coir log living shoreline installation shown in Big Bay Creek, Edisto Island in July 2016. Same installation site shown again in September 2019.

Coir log living shoreline installation shown in Big Bay Creek, Edisto Island in July 2016. Same installation site shown again in September 2019. Photo credit: SC Department of Natural Resources 

South Carolina DHEC Coastal Division Regulations define a living shoreline as a shoreline stabilization approach utilized in intertidal wetland environments that maintains, restores, and/or enhances natural estuarine processes through the strategic placement of native vegetation and/or use of green infrastructure as described in South Carolina Code of Regulations R.30-12.Q. Living shorelines promote wetland resiliency and water quality, and enhance the diverse intertidal habitat.

Living shorelines, as defined above, are encouraged as an alternative to traditional hardened erosion control structures in estuarine environments because they provide an environmental benefit and reduce the environmental impacts associated with hardened structures. Living shoreline methods involve planting of native vegetation and/or the installation of other green infrastructure. Green infrastructure includes softer approaches to protecting estuarine shorelines and consists of materials that promote growth of native biological components and maintain continuity of the natural land-water interface.

Wondering if your property may be suitable for a living shoreline?

Environmental conditions of a site will be considered in the evaluation of living shoreline applications including whether the type of living shoreline has demonstrated success. Demonstrated success can include an increase in the presence of native vegetation and/or oysters, and an increase in elevation on the landward side of the living shoreline installation. Some living shoreline projects will  be more successful than others depending on the site conditions. For more information on performance expectations, please see Summary of Living Shoreline Research to Inform Regulatory Decision-Making in South Carolina.

General resources are available to help homeowners assess conditions and plan for a living shoreline project. The following sites will help you get started.

  • Clemson Extension offers additional information regarding associated costs,  selection of the right method of installation, how to measure success as well as information pertaining to training and educational opportunities.
  • The Nature Conservancy’s SC Living Shoreline Explorer application provides the user with a preliminary look at specific site conditions that are important to consider.

For general inquiries concerning living shorelines, please contact Blair Williams, Critical Area Permitting Section Manager, at

Permitting Guidance

Living shoreline installations will require an individual critical area permit from DHEC OCRM. Professional drawings must be included with the permit application. For illustrative purposes, please see example drawings: Example Living Shoreline Reef Project. Staff are available to assist property owners with the process once you are ready to begin.


To be eligible for a living shoreline, you must have a parcel or lot that is defined as waterfront property in SC Code of Regulations 30-1.D(54).

For purposes of these regulations, waterfront property will generally be defined as upland sites where a straight-line extension of both, generally shore perpendicular, upland property lines reaches a navigable watercourse within 1000' of the marsh critical line. Waterfront property may also be identified via an approved dock master plan where designated corridors differing from upland property line extensions are delineated.

Getting Started: Pre-Application Meeting

To facilitate and streamline the permitting process, a pre-application meeting with DHEC OCRM staff is recommended prior to applying for a critical area permit application. The pre-application meeting is an opportunity to discuss the permitting process. The pre-application meeting also allows staff to provide the potential applicant with project-specific information and submission requirements. To request a pre-application meeting with DHEC OCRM, please contact Blair Williams, Critical Area Permitting Section Manager, at

Living Shoreline Project Standards

All living shoreline applications must demonstrate that they are designed and constructed in a manner that:

  • does not restrict the reasonable navigation or public use of state lands and waters;
  • has minimal effect on natural water movement and in no case prohibits water flow;
  • does not prevent movement of aquatic organisms between the waterbody and the shore;
  • maintains, restores, and/or enhances shoreline ecological processes;
  • maintains continuity of the natural land-water interface; and
  • prevents the installation from being displaced which can result in marine debris.
  • Specific regulatory project standards for which living shorelines will be evaluated can be found in SC Code of Regulations 30-12.Q