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Saltwater wetlands, primarily mangroves in the Bay area, are essential nursery areas for many marine species. Wetlands decreased in Sarasota Bay by more than 1,800 acres (38 percent) between 1950 and 1990.  A recent mapping project showed that more than 100 miles of seawalls and other hardened shorelines now dominate the Sarasota Bay watershed.

In response, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and its partners have embarked on substantial saltwater wetland restoration and enhancement projects totaling more than 160 acres.

SBEP has adopted an annual goal of restoring at least 1% of the wetland habitat that’s been lost – totaling 18 acres of wetland restoration per year.

Read about the value of wetlands worldwide by downloading LIVING WATERS: The Economic Value of the World's Wetlands.


Mangroves are a type of wetland in Southwest Florida. The mangrove habitat restoration that SBEP does provides nursery habitat for young juvenile fish.

Most of the fish and shellfish we like to catch and eat spend part of their lives in among the roots in the mangrove forests that line the estuaries of southwest Florida. They thrive here in the nutrient-rich waters created by the leaf litter from three types of  mangroves. Red mangroves are one of the few trees that can grow with its feet in saltwatermost of the time. Two other varieties of mangroves grow in Florida, too. The black mangroves generally start where the reds leave off, occupying slightly higher elevations and surrounding themselves with little finger-like roots that stick up out of the soil. White mangroves sit farther back still, with no visible root system.

Manatees are frequent visitors to the shallow waters among the mangroves and bird rookeries used to be common in the mangrove forests that ringed the estuarine systems of southwest Florida. Today, they are all too few. Dredging of rivers and coastal inlets, development and other human activities such as mangrove trimming and removal have damaged or destroyed these precious systems all over the state.


The salt marsh community of the South Florida Ecosystem is perhaps one of the most unique salt march systems in the United States. Coastal Marshes are communities of vegetation in areas alternately inundated and drained by tidal action. The term salt marsh summarizes the saline conditions of the habitat and the type of vegetation that dominate it. Marshes are grass dominated systems.

Salt marshes are found in flat, protected water usually within the protection of a barrier island estuary or along low-energy coastlines.  Situated between the land and the sea, salt marshes experience the effects of both salt and fresh water.  Tidal effects are greatest on marsh areas below mean low water while upland freshwater sources influence areas above mean high water.  Tides flush saline waters over the intertidal zone and rivers carry freshwater in from upland sources transporting with them sediments and nutrients necessary for the growth and formation of a marsh system.

Living Shorelines

Many shorelines in Sarasota Bay have often been hardened with structures such as bulkheads, stone revetments, and seawalls to prevent or minimize coastal erosion. Ironically, hardened structures often increase the rate of coastal erosion, remove the ability of the shoreline to carry out natural processes, and provide little habitat for estuarine species. However, alternatives to hard/structural stabilization are available that use a natural “Living Shorelines” approach.

Living Shorelines utilize a suite of bank stabilization and habitat restoration techniques to reinforce the shoreline, minimize coastal erosion, and maintain coastal processes while protecting, restoring, enhancing, and creating natural habitat for Sarasota Bay resources. This technique was coined with the term “Living Shorelines” because it provides “living space” for riverine, estuarine, and coastal organisms, which is accomplished via the strategic placement of native vegetation, sand fill, organic materials, and, if necessary, a small amount of reinforcing rock seeded with oysters.

This natural bank stabilization approach can be utilized in low- to medium-energy coastal and estuarine environments, as well as in tidally influenced creeks, streams, and rivers. Living Shoreline stabilization is implemented via two methods: (1) soft/nonstructural stabilization that utilizes natural, nonstructural, and biodegradable materials; and (2) hybrid stabilization that utilizes a combination of soft/nonstructural and hard/structural materials. The use of soft/nonstructural materials as opposed to hybrid materials at a particular site can be determined via an analysis of the nature of the erosion problem, site characteristics (including location, elevation, wave energy, fetch, frequency of storms, prevailing wind and wave direction, presence of vegetation, runoff, and recreational use), costs and availability of building materials, and construction alternatives available.

Living Shorelines provide the following benefits to both property owners and to flora and fauna in riverine, estuarine, and coastal ecosystems:

  • Preserves, creates, or maintains habitat for aquatic flora and fauna.
  • Restores critical feeding and nursery habitat for adult and juvenile fish.
  • Provides wildlife access to the shoreline for nesting species of birds and turtles.
  • Maintains natural shoreline dynamics.
  • Creates a natural buffer that absorbs wave energy and reduces coastal erosion.
  • Traps and retains land runoff containing nutrients and pollutants.
  • Can be used in a variety of low- to medium-energy environments, including bays, estuaries, lagoons, sheltered shorelines, and tidally influenced streams and rivers.
  • Can be less costly than structural stabilization (e.g., bulkheads and seawalls) when implemented in low-energy environments.
  • Provides aesthetic value, enhanced views, a sense of place, and privacy to the property owner.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program has utilized the Living Shorelines technique developed by NOAA researches at many of our restoration sites.  For more info on how you can create a Living Shoreline on your waterfront property visit NOAA Living Shorelines. Click on the tabs at the top of the page to see photos of Living Shorelines projects across the country, find resources and contacts.


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