Living shorelines, enhanced seawalls improve the Hillsborough River

August 2018 – Early in the City of Tampa’s History the lower Hillsborough River was largely a commercial shipping area supporting the many businesses of the area. To facilitate the docking of merchant ships, seawalls were constructed. In other parts of the river, seawalls were installed to protect against erosion. Unfortunately, the loss of natural shorelines resulted in the loss of the natural functions these shorelines provided.

Natural shorelines dissipate wave action and provide a surface for aquatic plants to grow. These plants provide habitat for wildlife and clean the water of excess nutrients. More recently, there’s been a growing movement to improve these previously hardened seawall shorelines. Methods include both installing a living shoreline or simply enhancing the existing seawall. Either can provide real benefits to wildlife and water quality.

A living shoreline is any erosion control management system that does not introduce a fixed interruption of a natural water/land continuum. It is designed to protect or restore natural shoreline ecosystem services and includes natural elements. A living shoreline may incorporate manmade elements as well. Recent living shoreline projects along the Hillsborough River include Lowry Park, Rivercrest Park, Reed Property, Riverside Garden Park, Steward Middle School, USF Park and Cotanchobee Park. Future living shoreline projects on the river include: Blackwater Hammock and Ignacio Haya Park.

We now understand that we can soften the shoreline by removing seawalls when practical, removing non-native vegetation and planting with natural stabilizing plants. When it is not practical to remove seawalls, we can enhance them with planted features. Completed seawall enhancement projects include Ulele Springs and Julian B. Lane Park.

What can property owners do? Residents are encouraged to consider more natural shoreline stabilization methods rather than seawalls when addressing erosion concerns. We now have the tools to both protect our property and maintain, or even improve, the river habitat and water quality.

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