Coastal setback provisions ensure that development is prohibited in a protected zone adjacent to the water’s edge. Setbacks are often defined as a prescribed distance to a coastal feature (such as the line of permanent vegetation) within which all or certain types of development are prohibited. Specific characteristics of the beach and backshore environments must be considered in determining an appropriate setback. Setback limits should reflect any potential damage that a major storm can cause to the beach and its surrounding areas.
Setbacks serve several widely recognized functions:
- Setbacks provide buffer zones between the ocean and coastal infrastructure, within which the beach zone may expand or contract naturally without the need for seawalls and other structures that may imperil an entire beach system
- Setbacks reduce damage to beachfront property during high wave events, such as hurricanes
- Setbacks provide improved vistas and access along the beach
- Setbacks provide privacy for the occupiers of coastal property and also for persons enjoying the beach for recreation
Many sea turtle species preferentially select wide, obstacle-free beaches for nesting. Losses to erosion and salt water inundation are less likely to occur in nests located on the higher areas of the beach. Coastal (especially beachfront) development can reduce the quantity and quality of available sea turtle nesting habitat. The setback area can be thought of as a “buffer zone”, an area that can be utilized for activities that have minimal effects on sea turtles. Within this zone, salt-tolerant native species and ornamental landscaping can help minimize the potentially negative effects (e.g., lighting) of the primary development.
The more dynamic the beach is, the more area of setback is necessary! In the absence of a setback, sea turtle conservation goals are more difficult to achieve.
Adhere to best practices regarding coastal construction setbacks! Setback guidelines differ depending on shoreline characteristics, but typically range from 15 m to 100 m from the line of permanent vegetation. The shortest setback distances are typically associated with cliffed coasts or low rocky shores, while longer distances are typically associated with less predictable sandy shores. In addition to protecting sea turtle nesting habitat, construction setbacks have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of property damage due to shoreline erosion.
Advocate for strong setback provisions (including monitoring and enforcement) in national policy.
Want to Know More?
NOAA Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Construction Setbacks
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