South Carolina’s Shoreline Change Initiative

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 12/19/2010 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

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Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Shoreline Change Initiative was created by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (DHEC-OCRM) in 2007. The Initiative aimed to improve upon the existing regulatory coastal management framework established by the Beachfront Management Act of 1988 in order to keep pace with the long-term challenges of erosion, sea level rise, and coastal storms. While the Shoreline Change Initiative has dissolved, DHEC-OCRM continues to address coastal hazards through management planning and community resilience building.


Sea level rise, erosion, and the increased frequency and severity of coastal storms expected with global climate change sparked the creation of the South Carolina Shoreline Change Initiative. Twenty-three experts, including scientists, managers, planners, and non-governmental representatives, formed the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee. This committee was charged with examining shoreline impacts from sea level rise, erosion, coastal storms, and rapid shoreline development.

The Shoreline Change Advisory Committee released the 2010 report Adapting to Shoreline Change: A Foundation for Improved Management and Planning in South Carolina. The report includes an overview of existing shoreline regulations and four goals and thirteen specific actions to improve coastal management in South Carolina.

Goal 1. Minimize Risks to Beachfront Communities
Recommendation 1 – Prevent the Seaward Expansion of Beachfront Development
Recommendation 2 – Strengthen the Beachfront Setback Area
Recommendation 3 – Eliminate Inconsistent Public Subsidies
Recommendation 4 – Strategically Acquire Beachfront Lands and/or Easements
Recommendation 5 – Strengthen the Role of Local Governments

Goal 2. Improve the Planning of Beach Renourishment Projects
Recommendation 6 – Develop and Implement Regional Sediment Management Plans
Recommendation 7 – Strengthen Reviews of Nearshore Dredging and Other Alterations
Recommendation 8 – Improve Beach Nourishment Monitoring

Goal 3.  Maintain Prohibitions and Further Restrict the Use of Hard Stabilization Structures
Recommendation 9 – Refine Criteria for Emergency Orders and Sandbags
Recommendation 10 – Improve Guidelines for Groins and Breakwaters
Recommendation 11 – Expand Beachfront Real Estate Disclosure Requirements

Goal 4. Enhance the Management of Sheltered Coastlines
Recommendation 12 – Manage Erosion Control in Estuaries
Recommendation 13 – Establish Non-Beachfront Shoreline Buffer Areas

In 2010, DHEC-OCRM selected members for the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management. This committee represented a range of stakeholder interests and developed regulatory recommendations to enhance coastal management and planning and prepare South Carolina’s coastal areas for emerging challenges. In 2013, the Blue Ribbon Committee released “Shoreline Management Final Report: Recommendations for improved beachfront management in South Carolina.” The report discusses and provides recommendations for six topic areas: policy of beachfront retreat; state beachfront jurisdiction; special permits and activities seaward of the baseline; emergency order sandbags; beach nourishment; and groins. 


Many of the goals set by the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee in 2010 and recommendations suggested by the Blue Ribbon Committee in 2013 have been addressed. For example, DHEC-OCRM developed a living shorelines working group to guide and inform strategy for implementation. The group is working to develop a regulatory definition for living shorelines in South Carolina, which will help in streaming permitting processes and produce specific standards for projects. The group is basing these standards on the existing project “Evaluating living shorelines to inform regulatory decision-making.” DHEC-OCRM is also responsible for coordinating with ocean beachfront counties and municipalities to prepare local comprehensive beach management plans.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The Shoreline Change Advisory Committee released a report with various recommendations to improve shoreline policy and management action in South Carolina. DHEC-OCRM staff continue to use these recommendations to help local and state officials develop management responses to sea level rise, coastal storms, and erosion.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: Living Shorelines Regulations Update
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: Local Comprehensive Beach Management Plans
Evaluating Living Shorelines to Inform Regulatory Decision-Making in South Carolina
Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management Final Report


Gregg, R. M. (2021). South Carolina's Shoreline Change Initiative [Case study on a project of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated April 2021)

Affiliated Organizations

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is the state agency charged with protecting public health, coastal resources, and the state’s land, air and water quality as authorized under multiple state and federal laws. Approximately 3,800 full-time DHEC employees around the state provide vital healthcare and other direct services, monitor pollution, coordinate disease control, carry out the agency’s inspection and regulatory responsibilities, respond to environmental emergencies, and protect public health and the environment in numerous other ways.

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