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Creating protective infrastructure to reduce coastal risk, enhance aquatic habitat, and foster social resilience

Staten Island, NY, USA

Government Champion

NY Governor's Office of Storm Recovery w/ support from NYC Mayor’s Office and Dpt of Parks and Recreation


60 Million USD

Project Status

In Progress/Under Construction since 2021

At a Glance

Located off the southernmost point in New York City, Living Breakwaters is an innovative resilient infrastructure designed to reduce coastal risk, enhance aquatic ecosystems, and foster access, education, and stewardship. The project is currently being implemented by GOSR with $60 million of CDBG-DR funding.

Problem Addressed

The project is located off shore of Tottenville, Staten Island, the most southern neighborhood of New York City. In the 19th century, the shoreline was a vibrant destination for water-based recreation and had a strong commercial shellfish industry supported by oyster reefs that also buffered the shore from erosion-causing wave action. Today the shoreline is a combination of residential neighborhood and New York City parkland. However the shoreline itself has suffered from high rates of erosion over the past decades and over the past century and a half the oyster reefs have been lost to overharvesting, declines in water quality, and dredging . In 2012, Superstorm Sandy pummeled this neighborhood with floodwaters and heavy wave action. In 2013, US HUD launched the year-long Rebuild by Design competition to develop innovative design solutions to address the Sandy-affected region. Living Breakwaters, developed by the SCAPE team, was one of the seven projects selected for funding, and GOSR was awarded $60M to implement the project.

The State of New York used/is using habitat enhancing breakwaters and social engagement to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

The Living Breakwaters are designed to reduce storm wave energy and build back protective beaches lost to erosion, reducing risk to life and property for residents and the public lands along the shoreline and sustaining the public beach in the face of rising seas. The breakwaters are also designed to provide habitat through unique features including “reef ridges”, “reef streets”, “crenulated crests” and bio-enhancing concrete, supporting biologic activity and increased biodiversity, and restoring many of the ecosystem functions once provided by historic oyster reefs. Active oyster restoration on and around the breakwaters will further enhance the ecological performance of the breakwaters and support environmental education and monitoring to help train project stewards for the future. The wider beaches, calmer nearshore waters, and restored habitats will also improve and enhance shoreline access and recreational opportunities like boating and fishing.


  1. Reduced wave heights / wave energy during severe storm events
  2. Reduction and reversal of historic shoreline erosion
  3. New fish habitat and greater aquatic biodiversity in the project area
  4. Wider public beaches
  5. Monitoring, environmental education, and stewardship opportunities

Something Unique

The breakwaters contain a variety of ecological enhancements including “reef ridges”, “reef streets”, and “crenulated crests” to improve and diversify the aquatic habitat, mimicking many of the habitat functions once provided by historic oyster reefs.

Who Should Consider?

Communities suffering from risks associated with damaging storm waves and erosion; struggling with degraded marine habitat; or looking to combine implementation with partnerships for education and stewardship.

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