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Habitats: Shorelines and Shallows

Shorelines and ShallowsShorelines and shallows in our estuary range from gradually-sloping coastal wetland and forested edges along the Raritan River, Hackensack River, and Jamaica Bay, to vertical engineered shorelines with little to no shallow area. Intact and healthy shallow littoral and intertidal zone areas provide important habitat for fish and shellfish, water birds and herons, aquatic plants and other organisms that contribute to healthy, cleaner waterways.

NY-NJ Harbor Estuary shorelines
Shorelines range widely in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary and can have a large impact on the fish, birds, crabs, and other animals that live there.

This habitat is lost or significantly impacted when shorelines are hardened (i.e. reinforced with vertical or near-vertical sheet pile, concrete, riprap, or other stabilization method). Today, approximately 36% of the core Harbor Estuary shoreline has been hardened, soaring to 87% in the Upper Bay planning region (see map below). 

Shorelines map - NY-NJ Harbor and EstuaryApproximately 36% of the core Harbor Estuary shoreline has been hardened, raising to 87% in the upper bay planning region (www.watersweshare.org).

As a result, there is a need to improve and restore impacted shoreline habitat. The Hudson-Raritan Estuary Comprehensive Restoration Plan outlines goals for restoring shoreline habitat complexes, focusing on removing hardened shorelines to create gently sloping areas where feasible and reducing the impact of stabilized shorelines through enhancements. Full restoration of natural conditions is best from a habitat perspective and could include restoration of wetlands to shallow bottom habitat and riparian forest. In some areas of urban environments such as ours, full restoration may not be feasible due to competing uses (such as port, structures, and other social or economic pressures). But even in these cases, there are opportunities to improve habitat through alternative stabilization methods or enhancement.


Development of a Protocol to Assess the Relative Habitat Values of Urban Shorelines in New York – New Jersey Harbor. Reid DJ, Bone EK, Thurman MA, Levinton JS, Newton R & Strayer DL. 2015. 169 pp. (pdf)

  • Methods: A Standard Assessment Protocol for Assessing the Habitat Quality of Ecologically Enhanced Urban Shorelines. Reid, D. J. and Bone, E.K. 2015. 13 pp.(pdf)


Developing an Assessment Protocol for Urban Shorelines
Alternative stabilization techniques to increase habitat value of urban areas are being proposed or implemented, but their ecological value is not well understood. The New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program is funding a project launched in 2014 to develop and pilot a standard assessment protocol for evaluating ecologically-enhanced urban shorelines.  The research team, led by Columbia University, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Stony Brook University, and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, will be working with an Urban Shorelines Advisory Committee coordinated by the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program to complete the project.

In concert with a great regional interest in designing differently to better accommodate multiple goals, the research team will develop a standard way to measure the habitat quality of urban shorelines, and to compare lower impact alternatives to existing approaches. As regulators, landowners, and engineers increasingly are faced with decisions about the shoreline edge, an established assessment will enable stakeholders to build a library of case studies for a better-informed review of options. This protocol will complement other work being conducted in the harbor and elsewhere on shoreline habitat, and goals for increasing shoreline and shallow habitat in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary Comprehensive Restoration Plan. Stay tuned for updates as we progress!

Literature review of the effects of stabilization on the habitat value of shorelines in highly urbanized estuaries | Click Here (pdf)

Initial methods for developing and piloting the assessment protocol | Click Here (pdf)

Urban Shorelines Assessment Protocol Piloting Final Report and Advisory Committee Meeting - July 30, 2015

Also see presentation (pdf) for the above video

Advisory Committee meeting: post-field season review - September 9, 2014

A Standard Protocol for Assessing the Habitat Quality of Ecologically Enhanced Urban Shorelines in New York – New Jersey Harbor (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory / Stony Brook University / Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies) (pdf)

Urban shorelines assessment protocol post-field season meeting (Kate Boicourt) (pdf)

Kick-off meeting presentations - February 19, 2014

Urban Shorelines Assessment Protocol: Background and Goals (Kate Boicourt) (pdf)

Presentation to the Advisory Committee on expected approach (Elisa Bone) (pdf)


Shallow Water Benthic Mapping: West Side Manhattan and Brooklyn Waterfront. 2015. Report to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Prepared by e4 sciences and CH2M Hill (pdf)

Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines

American Littoral Society

Design the Edge


New York/New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program • 17 Battery Place, Suite 915 • New York, NY 10004
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