Puget Sound’s 2,500 miles of shoreline are among the most valuable and fragile of our natural resources. A dynamic area where land and marine ecosystems meet, the shoreline is constantly changing with the action of wind, waves, tides, and erosion. These same shaping forces are also the reason why people often build bulkheads or other structures to harden the shoreline. Indeed, more than 25% of the shoreline has been armored to protect public and private property, ports and marinas, roads and railways, and other uses.
Shoreline armoring, the practice of constructing bulkheads (also known as seawalls) and rock revetments, disrupts the natural process of erosion, which supplies much of the sand and gravel that forms and maintains our beaches. Erosion also creates habitat for herring, surf smelt, salmon, and many other species in Puget Sound. Over time, shoreline armoring may cause once sandy beaches to become rocky and sediment starved, making them inhospitable to many of our native species.
A 2021 report published by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Department of Natural Resources describes a regional strategy to reduce shoreline armoring in the Puget Sound region.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has published a comprehensive set of guidelines for managing shoreline development such as bulkheads and seawalls.
A 2021 article in the journal Applied Geography examines perceptions of shorelines in the Puget Sound region. A community survey described in the article showed that local residents preferred undeveloped shorelines to shorelines with armored structures such as seawalls and bulkheads.
Close to 30% of Puget Sound's shoreline is armored with seawalls and other structures meant to protect beaches against rising tides and erosion. But science increasingly shows that these structures are ineffective and cause significant harm to salmon and other creatures. State and federal agencies have been encouraging private property owners to remove armoring in a race to improve habitat, but why did so much of it start appearing in the first place?
Residential shoreline loan program feasibility study: Developing a new Shore Friendly incentive to help Puget Sound homeowners finance beach restoration and sea level rise adaptation
The 2018 Shoreline Armoring Implementation Strategy identified development of new financial incentives as a near-term priority. This study, funded by the Habitat Strategic Initiative, assesses the feasibility of developing a Shore Friendly residential shoreline loan program.
Puget Sound's shorelines are "liminal landscapes" that can inspire senses of "escape, transformation, and human creativity," according to a 2021 paper in GeoJournal. That may have regional policy implications as coastal researchers increasingly recognize the need to incorporate community inclusion and 'sense of place' in management decisions. The paper includes findings from a 12-county survey aimed at gauging residents’ sense of place for Puget Sound’s liminal shorelines.
The Elwha River has become famous as the site of the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. Several years ago, scientists began knocking down another barrier about a mile away from the river's delta. They removed a large seawall along the Salish Sea shoreline and discovered that sediment from the dam removal had huge benefits for their project.
Design innovations at the new seawall along Seattle's waterfront could inspire improvements for other shoreline structures around Puget Sound. They may even encourage broader regulatory changes that enhance habitat for migrating salmon and other species.
Coastlines and communities: A preliminary glance at the relationship between shoreline armoring and sense of place in Puget Sound
A 2019 report from Oregon State University examines how community members, including non-property owners, value shorelines in Puget Sound. The report emphasizes the impacts of shoreline armoring on survey respondents' sense of place in the region.
This year, air temperatures were warmer than in previous years, and this pattern is predicted to continue. Precipitation was low and is now improving, yet river flows remain low. By August, Puget Sound surface water temperatures were 0.6 °C warmer across all regions; this could have shifted the timing of optimal temperatures for some marine organisms. In September, blooms are limited to inlets. Jellyfish are abundant in Sinclair Inlet, and anchovies reside in Eld Inlet. Macroalgae are still plentiful. Learn about the benefits of beach wrack and a DNA barcoding project supported by Ecology.
A 2019 story map produced by the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shows how shoreline armoring can often be replaced by softer, shore-friendly features.
The removal of shoreline armoring has become a priority for the state's Puget Sound recovery efforts. The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) is providing details on the effectiveness of armor-removal projects at 49 study sites.
A 2014 report prepared by Coastal Geologic Services, Inc. examines spatial patterns in Puget Sound shoreline characteristics at the parcel-unit scale. It was developed in support of a social marketing strategy by state agencies to reduce shoreline armoring in the region.
Climate change could cause sea levels to rise more than four feet in some parts of Puget Sound, leaving shoreline residents with some tough decisions. Experts say fighting the waves with conventional seawalls may not be the answer.
The average worldwide sea level has increased more over the past 150 years than during the previous 1,500 years, experts say, and the seas continue to rise at an ever-increasing pace.
Planning for rising seawater in Puget Sound has often focused on public property such as roads, buildings and utilities. Now local governments are looking more closely at private property despite regulations based on traditional flooding history.
The Kitsap Regional Shoreline Restoration Program is an effort to protect and restore the Puget Sound nearshore by supporting willing landowners who wish to remove bulkheads on their shorelines. The Kitsap Regional Shoreline Restoration Program was funded by Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Puget Sound Watershed Assistance Program, Grant #PO-00J08501-0.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) is an independent program established by state and federal statute to monitor environmental conditions in Puget Sound.
A September 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute provides an overview of key products, results, and recommendations presented in three previous reports reviewing 50 projects from the first four years of the Puget Sound Marine and Nearshore Grant Program.
A 2016 article in the journal Conservation Letters makes policy recommendations to address shoreline armoring in the Salish Sea.
A September 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 27 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program. The report is an analysis of findings on shoreline restoration and derelict net and fishing gear removal.
A new peer-reviewed study reports significant findings on the impacts of shoreline armoring in the Salish Sea.
Bulkhead removal is becoming an attractive option for many shoreline property owners as awareness spreads of their geological and ecological impacts, and as aging bulkheads come up for replacement. New state guidelines provide alternatives to hard armor.
For more than a hundred years, property owners have seen shoreline erosion as the enemy. But it turns out that in many cases erosion is actually a good thing — crucial, according to scientists — because it provides the sand and gravel needed for healthy beaches.
A significant number of Puget Sound property owners have been altering their shorelines without required permits. A new report suggests that state and local regulators should increase enforcement and make penalties more costly for violators.
By removing bulkheads where they can, property owners are improving shoreline habitat, one piece at a time. Officials from county and nonprofit groups have been offering assistance and finding new ways to connect with property owners.
Proceedings of the March 31, 2016 WA Shoreline and Coastal Planners Group Spring Forum. Shoreline Stabilization: Using the Permit Process to Protect Shoreline Habitat and Property with a Focus on Single Family Residential Properties
Where shoreline bulkheads remain in place, the loss of spawning habitat used by surf smelt is likely to reach 80 percent.
Rising sea levels are expected to exacerbate habitat loss caused by bulkheads, according to studies in the San Juan Islands.
The removal of shoreline armoring in Puget Sound has become a priority for state and federal agencies, but until recently there have been relatively few scientific studies of armoring's local impact. New research looks at the pronounced biological and ecological effects of these common shoreline structures, especially for tiny beach-dwelling creatures that make up the base of the food web.
A 2015 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 14 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program.
The Puget Sound Fact Book brings together statistics and other information about the health and makeup of the Puget Sound ecosystem. Areas of focus include climate change, geography, water quality, habitats, human dimensions and regional species. The fact book was prepared for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Puget Sound Partnership.
Conservation and ecology of marine forage fishes— Proceedings of a research symposium, September 2012
The symposium was held on September 12–14, 2012, at the University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories campus. Sixty scientists, graduate students, and fisheries policy experts convened; showcasing ongoing research, conservation, and management efforts targeting forage fish from regional and national perspectives.
By the end of 2010, the PSP Science Panel’s efforts had reached the stage where an independent review by the WSAS (Washington State Academy of Sciences) was timely and useful to help guide its future indicator development efforts.
Sound Science: Synthesizing Ecological and Socio-economic Information about the Puget Sound Ecosystem summarizes what we know about the greater Puget Sound ecosystem and what we think could happen in the future given present trajectories and trends.
The 1994 Puget Sound Update—the fifth annual summary report of this program—evaluates the data collected by the PSAMP in 1993 (the most recent year for which the data have undergone quality assurance review and interpretation) and compares these data to past information on Puget Sound.
This seventh Puget Sound Update is based primarily on the findings of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP). The PSAMP is a long-term effort to investigate environmental trends, improve decision-making and prevent overlaps and duplication in monitoring efforts. The results of the PSAMP are supplemented by the findings of many other efforts to evaluate the condition of Puget Sound’s waters, sediments, nearshore habitats and biological resources.
This Puget Sound Update is the eighth report of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP) since the program was initiated in 1988 by the State of Washington.
The Shoreline Monitoring Toolbox standardizes approaches to tracking the status and health of shoreline environments in Puget Sound.
The decaying seawall along Seattle’s waterfront is providing scientists with an opportunity to improve long-lost habitat for migrating salmon. It could also show the way for habitat enhancements to crumbling infrastructure worldwide. One University of Washington researcher describes the project.
Scientists say eelgrass, an unassuming flowering plant found just off shore in Puget Sound, is vital to the health of the ecosystem. They also say the plant is declining. New and increasingly urgent efforts to restore it brought a group of researchers to the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.
Indigenous Community Health and Climate Change: Integrating Biophysical and Social Science Indicators
This paper appears in the July 2014 issue of the journal Coastal Management, which focuses on the role of social sciences in Puget Sound ecosystem recovery.
Extended abstract: Ecological response and physical stability of habitat enhancements along an urban armored shoreline
This paper describes a multi-year effort testing whether shoreline enhancements at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle have improved conditions for fish and invertebrates as compared to armored shorelines.
This is the executive summary from a technical report produced for the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership on Valued Ecosystem Components (VEC). The entire document is included as a PDF with this summary.
The State of Our Watersheds Report is produced by the treaty tribes of western Washington, and seeks to present a comprehensive view of 20 watersheds in the Puget Sound region and the major issues that are impacting habitat.
The Tulalip reservation is located near Marysville, Washington. It was created after the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, and currently has a population of 2,500 members. The entire tribal population is approximately 4,000 and growing.
Tulalip Tribes Area of Concern:
In the course of building homes, businesses, roads, and infrastructure, the lands and waters of Puget Sound have been drastically modified. Levees, dams, and toxic deposits are obvious and have site-specific impacts. But less obvious are the cumulative changes from human land use activities, such as bulkheads, docks, permanent removal of native vegetation, and loss of native habitat in marine and upland areas. These activities have damaged the underlying processes that form beaches, keep rivers, estuaries, and forests healthy, and support species. Historically, the actions that led to ecosystem degradation were intended to improve the quality of life for Puget Sound residents, but with closed shellfish beds, flooding, species decline, and other impacts it is clear that ecosystem rebuilding efforts are needed.
More then 700 miles of Puget Sound shoreline is considered to be "armored," and as much as four miles of new armoring is added each year.
Puget Sound has over 4,000 km (2,500 miles) of shorelines, ranging from rocky sea cliffs to coastal bluffs and river deltas. The exchange of water, sediment, and nutrients between the land and sea is fundamental to the formation and maintenance of an array of critical habitat types.