Ecosystems: Shoreline types

The shoreline is that highly dynamic area where land meets ocean, shaped by both natural physical processes and human activities.  Infrastructure concentrated at the shoreline can be vulnerable to coastal storms and long term sea level rise.  Managing our nation's shoreline requires balancing the need to protect the built environment and associated economic activities from coastal hazards, the costs of engineered protections, the safety of shoreline residents, and the need to maintain the integrity of natural systems.


Approximate number of miles of U.S. coastline.

Source: NOAA NGS, 2011


Approximate number of structures located within 500 ft of the U.S. shoreline.

Source: The Heinz Center, 2000

6 ft/yr

Average erosion rate along the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Source: Beatley et al., 2002

$14 billion

Potential cost of coastal armoring structures along California if projected sea level rise will reach 1 to 1.4m by 2100.

Source: CA Climate Change Center, 2009

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Download Shoreline Types Interactive Map and Data (687kb)

Source: NOAA Environmental Sensitivity Index Maps

About this Topic

The U.S. shoreline has numerous features, both natural and manmade. These shoreline types can be categorized as armored, beaches, flats, rocky, and vegetated. The data for this topic, obtained from the NOAA Environmental Sensitivity Index Maps, shows that 43% of the U.S. shoreline is categorized as vegetated, followed by beaches at about 18%, and rocky and flats at 15% each. The armored category, represents approximately 9% of the U.S. shoreline. The Closer Look section of this topic includes two case studies, one on the Environmental Sensitivity Index itself and how the shoreline types are determined, and the second one on the pros and cons of shoreline armoring.