State of the Beach/State Reports/MD/Shoreline Structures

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Maryland Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access88
Water Quality77
Beach Erosion8-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures 8 4
Beach Ecology2-
Surfing Areas25
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


State laws require permits for any construction done along the shoreline. These permits are reviewed by County shore erosion control districts. Non-structural measures, such as vegetative stabilization should be used over structural methods. Where annual erosion rates are over 2 feet/yr structural measures will likely be permitted.

Laws or regulations that guide and restrict shoreline armoring in Maryland include the various sections of Title 26 of the Maryland Code of Regulations, the Wetlands & Riparian Rights Act, and the Worcester County Code.

Title 26 of the Maryland Code of Regulations (Subtitle 17) on erosion control and stormwater management:

Title 8 of the Annotated Code of Maryland’s Natural Resources Article (Subtitle 10) on Shore Erosion:

Maryland's General Assembly enacted legislation creating the Shore Erosion Control Program providing public education and giving assistance to Maryland property owners and can be found in Natural Resources Article, Sections 8-1001 through 8-1008. The state law requires implementation of a program to control the state’s coastal erosion, designate shore erosion control districts and to create regulations to further define the state policy. In Section 8-1003, a water-front property owner may file an application to the Department for assistance with shore erosion control projects. The project will not be approved if within the boundaries of a shore erosion control district.

The Shore Erosion Control Program Website is:

Also see Maryland's Coastal Policies.

Title 4 of the Annotated Code of Maryland’s Environmental Article (Subtitle 1) on Sediment Control:

The districts and the need for a permit to do any construction activities are further defined in these policies.

Maryland's Tidal Wetlands Act, Section 16-201, gives property owners the right to protect their property from the effects of shore erosion on an individual basis. A property owner must obtain several permits and approvals at the federal, state, and local level in order to implement a shore protection project. Individual applications are filed and projects are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Permitting agencies primarily base the need for a shore protection project on the severity of the erosion problem at a specific location, and continue to give preference to the installation of nonstructural measures.

Erosion response activities along the ocean front are regulated by Ocean City, Worcester County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Responses in estuarine areas are the responsibility of Maryland Department of the Environment.

1994 Maryland Standards and Specifications for Soil Erosion and Sediment Control lists the standards to be used in guiding Sediment Control Plans. There are not specifications for shoreline structures to protect coastal homes or building from coastal erosion. There are guidelines for grade stabilization structures in Section B, which may apply to coastal property owners. There are guidelines for vegetative stabilizations in Section G.

Potential sources of funding include:

  • DNR Shore Erosion Control Program Revolving Loan Fund
  • Program Open Space
  • ACOE revolving loan feasibility study on erosion in the Chesapeake Bay. This study promotes habitat restoration goals with elements of shoreline stabilization/protection.

Maryland's governor created an Erosion Task Force to research Maryland's erosion problems and offer advise on possible changes to the state's current policy. Currently landowners desiring a protective device need approval from the Department of Natural Resources. Emergency licenses can be granted by the State of Maryland Board of Public Works only when the potential for loss of life exists. The entity installing erosion control must apply for a permit. Although nearly all possible beach erosion hazard responses (seawalls, revetments, groins, geotubes, sandbags, beach fill, and relocation) may be allowed, the state prefers "soft" options, such as beach fill, to hardened structures, so the permit requirements are stringent. Once permitted, structures may remain indefinitely. The state has required the removal of structures that were built without an appropriate permit.[1]

Maryland's General Assembly enacted a "shore erosion control law" guiding the assistance provided to Maryland property owners; it can be found in Natural Resources Article, Sections 8-1001 through 8-1008, as amended through 1998. Additional information on this law and shore erosion control in Maryland can be found at

The state is in the process of developing GIS planning tools which will aid in balancing conflicting interests like the need for armoring to protect private property against the need to preserve public beach. They are developing Maryland's Coastal Atlas, a comprehensive shoreline management web portal with GIS interactive mapping tools, planning & assessment tools, technical & financial assistance.

The Living Shorelines Stewardship Initiative (LSSI) is a collaborative project that is supported by several public and private entities.

The overall goal of the LSSI is to improve water quality and enhance habitat for living resources in the Chesapeake Bay through the shoreline management efforts of individual waterfront property owners. Key strategies to reaching the goal include: using science to drive appropriate types and locations for “living shorelines” treatments; and facilitating the institutionalization of living shorelines approaches through contractors and shoreline management policy makers.

The ultimate desired outcome is to have: "Maryland and Virginia shorefront property owners routinely consider and frequently choose living shoreline alternatives as their preferred shoreline management treatment." In 2013 Maryland hosted a Mid-Atlantic Living Shorelines Summit.


Maryland’s Comprehensive Coastal Inventory Program, provided by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has mapped shoreline features, including shoreline structures, coastal access, natural features, bank height and condition characterization along Chesapeake Bay. There is now a full statewide inventory of the shoreline structures for the Chesapeake Bay shoreline. This is an impressive shoreline inventory because of the detail of the study and the same method of gathering the information was used along the entire shoreline of Maryland.[2] Also see here.

Based on gathered data for 7 of the 16 coastal counties, approximately 20% of the surveyed 1863 miles of shoreline has shoreline structures, including riprap revetments and bulkheads. The area surveyed has 104 groin fields, 36 jetties and 30 breakwaters.

Another study done by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources provides data indicating that approximately 16.5% of the Maryland Coastal Bays contain armoring. The coastal bays included in this study are Assawoman Bay, Isle of Wight Bay, St. Martin River, Sinepuxant Bay, Newport Bay, and Chincoleadue Bay.

Additional information sources include: (coastal bays information)

A new, detailed survey of Baltimore County shows that half of the total 253 miles of tidal shoreline is armored.

Between 1996 and 2005, the Maryland Department of the Environment issued permits for over 200 miles of armoring in Maryland. In other words, approximately 6% of the total 3190 miles of tidal shoreline was armored in 9 years. This could lead to a devastating future for Maryland’s shoreline.

36 miles of shoreline was armored in Anne Arundel County between 1996 and 2005. Anne Arundal County has 432 miles of shoreline meaning approximately 8% of the County’s shoreline was armored in 9 years.

Ocean City has a seawall that protects the boardwalk running through the city. In the 1940s the Army Corps of Engineers built two jetties to stabilize the Ocean City Inlet. These jetties have exacerbated the down-drift erosion of Assateague Island.[3]

Hundreds of feet of geotubes (giant sausage-like bags filled with sand) were installed at Sea Isle City and reportedly helped protect coastal infrastructure during Hurricane Wilma in 2005. As a result, and because of a shrinking pot of federal dollars for beach fill projects, Ocean City subsequently spent approximately $400,000 to put 1,500 feet of geotubes along Morningside Beach. City officials then were reportedly so impressed with the way the geotubes were working, they are considering adding more to other beaches. The city's geotube project dollars will be credited to its local contribution to the next federal beach fill project. The geotubes are typically buried after installation to protect the mesh skin from physical degradation and damage from UV light.

An article by Tom Horton in the Baltimore Sun on July 1, 2005 decried the increasing amount of shoreline armoring in Chesapeake Bay. The article states that Virginia issued permits to harden around 220 miles of its tidal shoreline between 1993 and 2004. It continues at about 15 to 20 miles per year. Between 1996 and 2005 the Maryland Department of the Environment issued permits allowing more than 200 miles of hardening - more than a million feet of tidal shoreline. A recent detailed survey of Baltimore County shows half of the total 253 miles of tidal shoreline is hardened.

Many bay restoration experts are concerned that dramatic changes in ecological conditions may be inevitable if current trends continue. Most of the recent armoring is stone rip-rap, which greatly impacts horseshoe crab spawning areas. Although Maryland's Critical Area Act is highly restrictive of any disruption within 100 feet of tidewater, permits for erosion control - even where little threat exists - are granted with little scrutiny.

The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.


Maryland Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave
Annapolis, MD 21401

Perception of Effectiveness

According to the 2001 CZM Assessment, coastal erosion and inundation are impacting public and private property, historic and cultural sites, recreational beaches, productive farmland, wetlands, and forested areas. Efforts to improve the management of shoreline development are moving ahead slowly, but progress is hampered by inadequate implementation of policies, lack of funding, and a lack of public understanding and acceptance. Up-to-date information and data are needed to accurately project and plan for both erosion and sea level rise. Currently available topographic data for nearshore and low-lying areas is not adequate for the development of a sea level rise elevation model and the subsequent analysis and identification of threatened areas. In addition, technology is lacking for analysis of the efficacy and appropriateness of certain shore erosion control methods. Outreach efforts to increase public understanding and acceptance of mitigating measures associated with seal level rise and shore erosion impacts are also needed. Current erosion control efforts are reactionary and not based on a comprehensive long-term plan. Limited resources, including personnel and financial support, require a comprehensive analysis of shoreline conditions on a regional basis. This would allow the state to efficiently target shore erosion control funding and efforts towards areas exhibiting critical erosion rates and/or areas having significant public value and investments.

Public Education Program

Maryland is developing panels along the shoreline on hazards, developing a shoreline management website for data, mapping tools, outreach material, technical, and financial assistance.

Some information on erosion issues is available at the DNR website. For instance, if you type "erosion" in the search box, you will find several links, including Shore Erosion Control. Under this section of the website you will a link to several additional information resources.

MDNR has held a series of public meetings on shore erosion to help educate the public.

The MDNR Web page for Coastal Program Funded Projects & Programs shows an inactive link to "Shore Erosion Control in the State of Maryland" but the "Coastal Hazards", link goes to the new Maryland Coastal Atlas site which contains a wealth of useful information.

“Living shorelines” is an increasingly popular approach to erosion control that uses strategically placed plants, stone and sand to deflect wave action, conserve soil and simultaneously provide critical shoreline habitat. Living shorelines often stand up to wave energy better than solid bulkheads or revetments, which add to the problem by amplifying waves on neighboring shores. Here is a link to a 2005 article on this subject:

Also see this Maryland DNR brochure on Living Shorelines.

Shoreline Erosion Control, The Natural Approach from Maryland DNR, explains how many shorelines and protected coves can benefit from an alternative, non-structural technique.


  1. Mary Conley, Maryland CZM Program Manager. Personal communication. January 6, 2000.
  2. Katheleen Freeman, MDNR. Surfrider State of the Beach Report survey response, January 2003 and personal communication, March 2003.
  3. United States Geological Survey. "Coasts in Crisis: Coastal Conflicts." Site visited January 6, 2000.

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