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Water-Related News

Pinellas County to get new manatee protection signs

After completing the appropriate review process and receiving approval from the agency’s Commissioners, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will soon begin work to repair, clean and install waterway markers for existing boating safety and newly-established manatee protection zones in Pinellas County. The work will begin in mid-May and should be completed by the end of the summer.

The FWC will be installing new markers and repairing existing markers to post the manatee protection zones established by Chapter 68C-22.016, Florida Administrative Code. This will improve manatee protection in the area, and will clearly mark the boundaries for boaters.

Boaters are urged to use caution, particularly in narrow waterways, while the sign construction is underway.

Governor Appoints Schleicher and Smith to the SWFWMD’s Governing Board

Governor Rick Scott appointed Joel Schleicher and Rebecca Smith to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board. Schleicher represents Charlotte and Sarasota Counties and Smith represents Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

Schleicher, 65, of Sarasota, is the founder and executive chairman of Focal Point Data Risk, LLC. Schleicher received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. He is appointed for a term beginning May 12, 2017, and ending March 1, 2019.

Smith, 57, of Tampa, is the president and chief executive officer for the A.D. Morgan Corporation. Smith received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida. She is appointed for a term beginning May 12, 2017, and ending March 1, 2021.

Governing Board members are unpaid, citizen volunteers who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate. The Governing Board sets policy for the District, whose mission is to manage the water and related resources of west central Florida to meet the needs of current and future water users while protecting the environment.

Fire destroyed thousands of tires, leaked motor oil into stormwater system

The rusted skeletons of cars and a shed were all that remained next door to Callaghan Tire the morning after Thursday’s five-alarm fire in Bradenton.

Callaghan Tire shipping and receiving manager Rick Paree assessed the damage around 7:30 a.m., expecting that thousands of tires were destroyed at their tire retread plant at 1301 44th Ave. E., just next door to the bare bones of an auto repair shop. Paree heard an explosion that afternoon, which he said sounded like tires blowing up. Strong winds blew black smoke over their plant and into the sky.

According to an incident report from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, 100 gallons of motor oil were released into the nearby stormwater system.

“It is unknown as to whether the release has entered any other surface waters,” the report said.

According to Jon Moore, acting press secretary of the Office of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations has not found any evidence at this time of the fire being malicious or suspicious. Investigators also haven’t found any evidence at this time suggesting that the fire was caused by a car backfiring, Moore said.

Egmont Key makes historic preservation list because it is threatened by climate change

ST. PETERSBURG — Every year the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation picks 11 properties to highlight as the most threatened historic properties in the state.

This year, three of those sites are in the Tampa Bay area.

And one of them — Egmont Key — made the list because it is threatened by climate change.

"This is the first time a site has made the list due to the threat of sea level rise," said Clay Henderson, the president of the trust's board of trustees. "We see this as a new threat."

The loss of historic properties to a rising sea became a top concern for the trust, Henderson explained, after seeing the damage that Hurricane Matthew inflicted on St. Augustine last year.

As the October storm's eyewall skirted the oldest continuously occupied city in America, it sent a 7-foot storm surge swirling through the streets. Flooding affected all seven of its federally designated historic districts, damaging about half of the 2,000 properties in those areas.

Red Tide linked to pelican deaths, but St. Petersburg still denies any link to sewage dumps

Earlier this spring, a city-funded study concluded that dozens of pelicans found dead in January had been exposed to botulism while feasting on tilapia carcasses.

But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said recently that a toxin from Red Tide was found in some of the birds and may have contributed to their deaths.

Wildlife commission officials would not say if the pelican deaths are part of a criminal inquiry into St. Petersburg's sewage-dumping woes, but Red Tide can be caused by sewage spills.

"As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to speak of any connection that may exist," spokeswoman Kelly Richmond said. The commission is investigating the city's dumping of 200 million gallons of sewage from an overburdened system since August 2015.

A few months ago, interim Water Resources director John Palenchar said the city-sponsored study proved the city's sewage crisis had nothing to do with the dead pelicans.

Tampa Bay has spent millions to keep hurricane season from turning into sewage season again

Tampa Bay utility officials have their collective fingers crossed, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year's calamity: Glancing blows from Tropical Storm Colin and Hurricane Hermine, combined with record rainfall, overwhelmed sewer pipes and plants across the region.

Sewage seeped through manhole covers and flowed over residential streets. St. Petersburg alone sent 161.5 million gallons of waste gushing into the Tampa Bay itself (and a total of 200 million gallons going back to August 2015). Those disastrous spills fouled the bay, left local officials reeling and sparked state and federal investigations.

Seven months later, public works crews have been working hard to get ready for the new storm season, which officially starts June 1. Will it be enough to stave off another sewage crisis?

Manatee County drafting public parks priorities

MANATEE COUNTY — For the first time since 1975, Manatee County is assembling a “master plan” for its parks and recreation programs and facilities.

An analysis of existing conditions, a look at demographic trends and more than 1,500 responses from online, website and public meeting surveys of park users are being used to create a strategy for how best to provide public parks that serve the county’s 363,000 residents as well as those yet to come. By 2035, Manatee’s population could exceed 500,000.

“There is no one right way to do this,” David Barth, a parks planning consultant, advised the County Commission on Tuesday. Every parks master plan should be tailored to the community it serves, Barth emphasized.

For example, the county may want to provide facilities but prefer to contract with the private sector to operate programs.

The Parks and Natural Resources Department intends to have a draft document available in July and a final version ready for the County Commission’s review on Aug. 8.

“We haven’t finished the process,” Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker stressed.

“We have a lot to discuss moving forward,” Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said.

Sea turtle nesting season underway

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Sea turtle nesting season is underway, and in order to practice superior environmental stewardship, Pinellas County reminds beach residents and visitors in beach communities to keep conditions safe for sea turtles to thrive.

Females generally nest from early May through August with turtle eggs typically taking between 50 and 60 days to hatch.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium monitors nearly 26 miles of coastline and reports on sea turtle nesting activity. The staff engages in early morning patrols to locate new nesting sites and late night patrols to check existing nests for hatchlings. They also watch the nests from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. to make sure that hatchlings make it to the water safely. Do not pick up hatchlings heading toward the water, shine lights or use photo equipment with a flash. Hatchlings use starlight and moonlight reflecting off the water to find their way to the ocean, and if they become misled by artificial light, they can become disoriented and die.

In addition to checking the beaches every morning for signs of new nests, aquarium staff mark the nests and rope them off to avoid human disturbance. As an endangered species, loggerhead turtles are protected under federal law and bothering their nests is illegal. To report the disturbance of a sea turtle nest, or report the sightings of turtles or hatchlings lost, stranded or wandering in the street, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement at 1-888-404-3922 or *FWC from a cell phone. More info »

Most of the Pinellas County beach communities have ordinances in place prohibiting lighting that casts glare onto the beach during turtle nesting season, which ends on Oct. 31.

Petition filed for administrative hearing on Aqua by the Bay lagoon permit

Although the Southwest Florida Water Management District intended on giving Long Bar Pointe LLLP a permit for a proposed lagoon enhancement mitigation area, environmental groups are once again raising objections to nearly each aspect of developer Carlos Beruff’s plans to build his Aqua by the Bay development.

On Wednesday, the district received an 18-page petition from Suncoast Waterkeeper and Cortez Captain Kathe Fannon for a formal administrative hearing in response to the district’s notice of intent to approve a two-mile lagoon between the mangrove shoreline and a proposed seawall.

The petitioners allege the permit fails to meet the “clearly in the public interest” test, as Fannon said her charter business would be affected if the shoreline were weakened.

“I just stand on the fact that I’ve never had anybody ask me to come bring them to see a 145-foot building,” Fannon told the Bradenton Herald in April during a tour of the shoreline in question. “ Nobody has asked me to take them to see a mega-marina. No one has ever asked me to come show them a seawall that cuts off the shoreline.”

The petition also alleges that the lagoon would adversely affect wildlife and recreational activities, and that the applicant didn’t sufficiently find alternative designs to reduce wetland impacts.

Beruff’s attorney Ed Vogler said during the county commission meeting Thursday there would be only 13.07 acres of proposed wetland impacts, but that they were low quality wetlands.

Volunteers come out to Perico Preserve to help oyster project

MANATEE – For some families, a lesson on the importance on sustaining healthy oyster beds for the coastal environment was a hands-on lesson.

Oyster Extravaganza brought out 33 volunteers, including adults and children, to Perico Preserve on Saturday to help build oyster mats — in an effort to rebuild oyster beds.

“These are going to be basically carpets of oysters that were built all by volunteers, and we will place them out in the bay and in the surrounding areas to grow new oyster beds,” said Aedan Stockdale, education program manager for the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department.

A few oyster bags (mesh bags filled with oyster shells) and vertical oyster gardens (shells strung on a rope) also were built by volunteers. The bags are used to build beds along shorelines, and the vertical gardens are hung from docks or boat ramps.

Saturday’s project was part of the Gulf Oyster Recycling and Renewal Program — a pilot program in which oyster shells from the Chiles Group restaurants — Sandbar, Beach House and Mar Vista — are going to be recycled and later used to help rebuild the estuary around Perico Preserve.

On Saturday, the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department teamed up with community partners that included the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Manatee County extension, the Chiles Group, the Gulf Shellfish Institute, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and START, Solutions To Avoid Red Tide, a nonprofit organization founded in Longboat Key.

Manatee County preparing to spend $6.3M in BP funds

No oil touched Manatee County from big spill. But officials ready to spend $6.3 million from BP

MANATEE – While no oil from the BP Oil Spill touched Manatee County, the county will receive $6.3 million over the next 15 years under the RESTORE Act.

On Monday afternoon, county officials will have a press conference to announce how they plan to spend the funds from the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act.

“Manatee County leaders on Monday [May 8th] will announce a spending plan that will improve local waterways, create environmental learning opportunities, help working waterfronts in the Village of Cortez and more,” a news release states.

The press conference, which will be at 1 p.m. Monday at the Florida Maritime Museum, 4415 119th St. W., Cortez, will begin a six-week public comment period during which residents can give feedback on the proposed plan. The feedback, along with the spending plan, will be presented to the county commission this summer for approval and then submitted to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for implementation.

Army Corp denies Beruff Long Bar mitigation bank... again

BRADENTON — On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied developer Carlos Beruff’s Long Bar Pointe LLLP's application permit for a wetland mitigation bank for his proposed Aqua by the Bay development in southwest Manatee County.

The ACOE previously denied such an application in 2016 and said the developer had failed to address the concerns noted then, instead offering an identical application with only commentary toward the ACOE's previously stated concerns.

Developers use mitigation banks in order to achieve credits for wetlands they will damage or destroy during construction by having other disturbed wetlands restored and enhanced and then purchasing the resulting credits.

The ACOE echoed many of the concerns voiced by opponents of the development, which went before the Manatee County Commission on Thursday (more). They noted that the project could adversely impact the sea grasses in the area, while a proposed lagoon could weaken the wetland shoreline.

The letter also pointed out that proposed mangrove trimming "serves no clear ecological purpose and is contradictory to the goals of a compensatory mitigation bank." Beruff had previously told the Tampa Bay Times that the trimming was "For the obvious reason. The view!" The letter also noted that an oyster reef restoration area permitted to the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program could be impacted.

Stormwater improvements may be coming to Rubonia

MANATEE – Some help may be on its way to end flooding in Rubonia.

As the state legislative session wraps up in the coming days, Manatee County is in line to receive $1.5 million for stormwater and drainage improvements to alleviate the flooding conditions in Rubonia, which is tucked off U.S. 41 between Palmetto and Interstate 275.

“That amount is a little over half of our requested $2.8 million, but this is a substantial allocation that will go a long way to alleviate standing water and minor flooding conditions in Rubonia,” county spokesman Nick Azzara said in an email to commissioners and other county officials Wednesday.

This news comes as the Florida Senate and House have reached a deal on a new $83 billion state budget on Wednesday, extending the session one extra day.

“The entire budget is expected to be agreed to by Friday at the latest, which will begin the 72-hour required cooling off period,” Azzara said in the email. “The budget is scheduled to be voted on by both chambers on Monday afternoon. If both House and Senate approve the budget, it will be sent to Gov. Scott for review.”

In addition to the Rubonia funding request, Manatee County is currently set to receive its entire $600,000 funding request for Robinson Preserve, which is included in the Fish and Wildlife budget. But there is still uncertainty on the county’s request for $500,000 for an opioid peer pilot project, which is part of a Health and Human Services budget that has yet to be released, according to Azzara.

Pollution notice bill inspired by sinkhole passes Legislature

A bill requiring industry and government to notify the public quickly of any pollution problems has passed both houses of the Legislature and is headed for Gov. Rick Scott. Scott, who called for the change in the law, will definitely sign it.

The bill, SB 532, was inpsired by the sinkhole at Mosaic's Mulberry phosphate plant and St. Petersburg's sewage disaster.

The sinkhole, in particular, drove Scott's desire for the bill. When it opened up in August 2016 and swallowed 215 million gallons of contaminated water, dumping it into the aquifer, neither Mosaic nor Scott's own Department of Environmental Proteciton told the public about it for three weeks. The reason? State law did not require them to do so unless the pollution was detected outside the polluter's property boundaries. Mosaic (but not the DEP) later apologized for the delay.

The delay in St. Petersburg officials reporting the tens of millions of gallons of sewage that the city's aging wastewater system released into Tampa Bay after Hurricane Hermine bothered Scott as well.

Florida drinking water ranks among nation’s worst, study finds

7.5 million: The number of people in Florida served by water treatment plants with safe water violations

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article148112799.html#storylink=cpyMore Floridians are exposed to unsafe drinking water than just about anywhere in the country, according to a new study of violations.

The state ranked second in the number of people impacted by violations under the Safe Drinking Water Act based on the most recent data available from 2015, the Natural Resources Defense Council said. Nationally, 77 million people were exposed to unsafe water, with violations including high levels or toxic arsenic, lead and other chemicals, as well as failure to test or report contamination.

The study, a follow-up to an examination of the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., comes as the Trump administration considers drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces the law.

“The problem is two-fold: there’s no cop on the beat enforcing our drinking water laws, and we’re living on borrowed time with our ancient, deteriorating water infrastructure,” Erik Olson, NRDC’s health program director, said in a statement. “We take it for granted that when we turn on our kitchen tap, the water will be safe and healthy, but we have a long way to go before that is reality across our country.”

To compile the data, the nonprofit looked at the most recent, comprehensive data and ranked states based on the number of people exposed to unsafe water. That could skew findings to heavily populated states, but even as a percentage, Florida ranked in the top ten, said NRDC spokesman Alex Frank.

Southwest Florida so dry that canals, wells, pumps, lawn watering are concerns

As Southwest Florida is gripped by a particularly dry season and residents are urged to conserve water, some municipalities are more affected by the relatively sparse rainfall and low water levels than others, officials say.

As of Friday, the Southwest coast area of the South Florida Water Management District — which includes large parts of Collier and Lee County — received only 5.46 inches of rain, said Randy Smith, a district spokesman. That's only 45 percent of what the area usually would receive during an average dry season, which runs from Nov. 1 through May 31, he said.

"It got less than half the rain that you normally would have," Smith said.

To make matters worse, Southwest Florida's dry spell has parched the area's woods, leaving wildfires with plenty of sun-baked brush to fuel their rage. Two large blazes in Collier torched thousands of acres in March and April and razed eight homes. A 400-acre fire in Lehigh Acres last week also destroyed or damaged structures.

University of Tampa divers help pull up nearly 100 pounds of Gasparilla beads from Seddon Channel

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Funding for the project came from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program's Bay Mini-grant program, which is funded from the sale of the organization's "Tarpon Tag". Get yours today »

TAMPA — In the murky depths off Davis Islands, Matt Gamache scanned the bottom of the Seddon Channel for sunken trash that had once been treasure.

And there it was, like a string of colorful pearls nestled among the silt-covered rocks and oyster shells: a strand of Gasparilla beads. The University of Tampa freshman gently pulled with a gloved hand, the single necklace having become entangled with several other strands. He placed the plastic baubles in a mesh bag and continued his hunt.

"You could stay in one place for 10 minutes and just keep finding beads," Gamache, 19, recalled.

By the end of the day Sunday, Gamache had helped two-dozen other volunteer divers fish nearly 100 pounds of beads from a thousand-foot stretch of the channel south of Marjorie Park Marina. He was one of five University of Tampa dive club members who took part in the inaugural effort, dubbed the Gasp – Our Beads of Tampa Bay survey and cleanup project.

The two goals of the event, held the day after Earth Day: Remove at least some of the plastic booty that finds its way into the water during Tampa's signature celebration, and get a sense of where to target future cleanups.

Manatee County Utilities: Water remains safe to drink despite unusual taste

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MANATEE COUNTY – Manatee County water customers may notice an earthy scent or taste to their drinking water, but County Utilities officials say the water is perfectly safe to drink.

The somewhat different taste and odor of the water are the result of algae blooms that are common on Lake Manatee this time of year. Utilities officials said today water tests over the past several weeks indicate elevated levels of blue-green algae which leaves an earthy and/or musty taste or odor in the water. There are no known health effects caused by the presence of these compounds.

In addition to its standard water treatment standards, Utilities officials add a powder-activated carbon to the treatment process in order to prevent any effect on customers’ water. The water remains entirely safe to drink.

“It is our hope that by informing the public of this potential impact of the algal bloom, we are able to alleviate any concerns that may arise in case a customer detects an earthy taste or smell in their water," said Manatee County Water Manager Mark Simpson. "We will continue monitoring and treatment efforts until water quality returns to normal.”

Though not necessary, customers can install a store-bought carbon filter to faucet, water system of the refrigerator or a filtrated pitcher system to help return water to its normal taste and scent. Chilling the water before drinking it or adding drops of lemon juice to a glass of water can also help.

For additional information or questions about this or other water quality issues, please contact the Manatee County Water Treatment Plant Quality Control Laboratory staff at (941) 746-3020, ext. 228 or ext. 226.

For more information on Manatee County Government, visit online at www.MyManatee.org or call (941) 748-4501. You can also follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/manatee.county.fl and on Twitter, @ManateeGov.

‘Big win’: Florida beaches score $50 million in state budget

TALLAHASSEE – Florida's beaches would receive $50 million next year for renourishment projects in the state budget being negotiated by legislative leaders, but a bill to overhaul the way the state manages its coasts faces an uncertain future.

"It's a big win to get $50 million in the budget for beaches, big win," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who made beach funding a top priority this legislative session. Lawmakers often have provided less than the $30 million required in state law each year.

Latvala’s bill to reform the state’s beach management system overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Thursday but has stalled in the House.

The beach funding boost and Senate action on Latvala’s bill come on the heels of the Naples Daily News' four-day "Shrinking Shores" series that showed how state leaders have not delivered for Florida’s beaches, even though they bring in billions of dollars of tourist-related state sales tax revenues.

The House still could take up the beach policy bill sent over from the Senate in these final days of the legislative session, and parts of it could be written into the state’s budget, beach advocates said.

Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association President Debbie Flack celebrated the $50 million included in the budget Thursday.

“If nothing else happens, that’s a major hurdle,” Flack said.

Manatee County Commission wants more answers about suspected ‘cancer cluster’

MANATEE COUNTY — A review of records pertaining to irrigation wells and former fuel tanks at the site of Bayshore High School and the former Manatee Technical Institute campus do not back up many residents’ suspicions that the area is “a cancer cluster” linked to illnesses and deaths among alumni and faculty, county environmental officials say.

Yet county commissioners who heard the report on Tuesday expressed skepticism. Within the next month, they intend to conduct a joint meeting with the School Board and Florida Department of Health-Manatee to determine if more testing should be done.

“The bottom line is we need some answers,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “... I bet there’s more here that we don’t know about.”

Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace wondered if possible groundwater contamination could have come from another source “up stream” and possibly “a quarter of a mile away.”

Cheryl Jozsa, whose sister Terri Jewell attended BHS and died of leukemia, uses a Facebook site to notify alumni and others about the “cancer cluster” concerns. Jozsa said she wonders whether the former Riverside Products, an industrial machinery manufacturer at 4443 30th St. W., could be a source of off-site pollution that reached the campuses. That property is a Superfund environmental clean-up site.

Several weeks ago, after hydrogeologist David Woodhouse raised concerns, county commissioners asked their staff to research what potential contaminants could be at the adjoining campuses on 34th Strreet West – Bayshore High, which was rebuilt in 1999, and the former MTI, which was recently demolished.

“We’ve looked into the issue numerous times over the past 10 years,” said Rob Brown, an environmental specialist for the county’s Parks and Natural Resources Department.

SWFWMD declares Phase I Water Shortage throughout 16-county region

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (District) Governing Board voted today to declare a Phase I Water Shortage for all 16 counties throughout the District’s boundaries. Included in the order are Charlotte, Citrus, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and Sumter counties.

The primary purpose for a Phase I water shortage is to alert the public that watering restrictions could be forthcoming. The order also requires local utilities to review and implement procedures for enforcing year-round water conservation measures and water shortage restrictions, including reporting enforcement activity to the District.

A Phase I water shortage order does not change allowable watering schedules, however it does prohibit “wasteful and unnecessary” water use.

The District considers both natural water resource conditions and the viability of public supply when deciding to declare a water shortage order – that means, restricting the amount of water the public can use. For the past 20 years, the District has worked diligently with our partners to develop alternative water supplies. Even though we are experiencing drought conditions, there is adequate water supply available to the public.

Florida’s dry season runs October through May and April is historically one of the driest months of the year. The District encourages water conservation year-round, and offers many tips to reduce water use and additional information on our website WaterMatters.org/conservation.

New primer to “living shorelines” published

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A synthesis of recent thinking and results from practitioners and researchers of Living Shorelines just hit the stands. “Living Shorelines: The Science and Management of Nature-Based Coastal Protection,” details many aspects of the shoreline stabilization approach, and specifically includes: (1) background: history and evolution; (2) management, policy, and design; (3) synthesis of Living Shoreline science: physical and biological aspects; and (4) summary and future guidance. Researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science participated in the project.

Carolyn Currin, Jenny Davis, and Amit Malhotra contributed a chapter entitled "Response of Salt Marshes to Wave Energy Provides Guidance for Successful Living Shoreline Implementation". The multi-faceted chapter provides information pertaining to the: energetic determinants of marsh habitat distribution; relationship between shoreline wave energy and marsh erosion rates; and the ability of fringing marshes to attenuate waves and trap sediments. The chapter also describes the results of a case study of natural and stabilized fringing salt marsh from central North Carolina and combines these results with those from the literature review to provide guidance on the physical settings in which fringing marsh and hybrid living shorelines can be considered.

Coastal ecosystem functions have diminished as estuarine and coastal shorelines have been managed mostly to support human infrastructure and economic benefits. Coastal management has evolved to include the use of nature-based shoreline erosion control approaches. Living Shorelines are intended to restore natural shoreline functions in estuarine, marine, and aquatic systems.