Did you know that over 80% of Sarasota Bay’s shorelines are hardened? Seawalls make living close to and enjoying the Bay easy and convenient. However, they have unintended consequences for wildlife and storm resilience because they eliminate the habitat and buffering functions of natural, vegetated shorelines. Softening some of Sarasota Bay’s more protected shorelines by removing or altering existing seawalls could make space for wildlife, improve storm resilience, and beautify the Bay.

Bayfront Park View of the bay on land

Living seawalls are an innovative idea for softening shorelines that add texture and shape to existing seawalls with reef balls and other man-made materials. The City of Palmetto installed a living seawall along the Manatee River earlier this year in response to a failing seawall in a high-traffic area. The City of Sarasota is now moving forward with the installation of a pilot living seawall project in front of O’Leary’s Pub in Bayfront Park. The installation is expected to generate wildlife habitat below the tide line, reduce wave intensity, reduce turbidity and bottom disturbances, and increase the beauty and educational value of the park.

A Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation served as inspiration and start-up funding for the project. Partners from multiple sectors, including Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota Bay Watch, Reefball Foundation, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, and the Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida collaborated on the proposal. The City of Sarasota hopes to document this pilot project to help support more living seawalls, which may be comparable in cost and environmentally superior to traditional seawalls. Scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory will study the living seawall for two years to compare the habitat value of the project compared to a traditional seawall.

The SBEP’s living shoreline demonstration project at Bayfront Park continues to thrive. Next time you visit the park, stop by the shoreline and call in to the Science and Environment Council’s Mobile Phone Tour, where you can sit in on a mini-class on living shorelines with SBEP’s Dr. Jay Leverone. Consider the differences between the types of shorelines that line the edges of Bayfront Park. In addition to the living shoreline, seawalls, and a soon-to-be living seawall, there remains a natural mangrove shoreline at the park. How do these different shorelines function? What are their costs and benefits? The SBEP and its partners hope to use the projects at Bayfront Park to inform recommendations for resilient and vibrant shoreline protection throughout Sarasota Bay.

"Our area is rapidly becoming a leader in this emerging field of softening seawalls to create marine habitat, and it’s a credit to our environmentally minded organizations, businesses and local governments that they are willing to be part of its evolution and development". – Larry Stults, Sarasota Bay Watch