Shoreline Armoring

A functioning, resilient Puget Sound ecosystem includes dynamic shorelines maintained by coastal processes such as shoreline erosion and ecological exchange between terrestrial and aquatic systems. Shorelines are among the most valuable and fragile of our natural resources. 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 and creates habitat for many other species. 29 percent of the shoreline in Puget Sound has been armored to protect public and private property, ports and marinas, roads and railways, and other uses. This Vital Sign tells us how effective the Puget Sound recovery community is in reducing the total amount of shoreline armor, particularly in those areas along feeder bluffs, and in replacing hard armoring practices with soft-shore techniques in our effort to restore the natural processes and function of shorelines.


Key Vital Sign Messages

  •    Seahurst after restoration. Photo H. Shipman
    Puget Sound shorelines offer habitat for small fish such as juvenile salmon migrating along the shores to reach the ocean, and beach spawning forage fish like surf smelt. Shoreline armor reduces habitat for fish and blocks the movement of sand and sediment, disrupting natural beach processes, and can block safe and easy access to the water.
  • Shoreline armor is present on 715 miles (29 percent) of Puget Sound shorelines.
  • While it is encouraging to see the trend in permitting towards more armor removal than new armor, it is important to keep in mind that changes seen in the last ten years are small in comparison to the legacy of armor in Puget Sound.
  • Replacement of existing shoreline armor remains the most common shoreline construction activity, according to the HPA permit record. WDFW is developing hydraulic code to implement Senate Bill 5273, which passed during the 2021 legislative session. The new law says that replacement of residential marine shoreline stabilization or armoring must use the least impacting technically feasible bank protection alternative for the protection of fish life.
  • Feeder bluffs (34 percent of which have been armored) and the use of soft shoreline techniques are getting significant attention for targeted restoration and best practices, respectively, but quantifying restoration actions and impacts is a challenge. Examples meant to overcome this challenge include Ecology’s web app for soft shore projects and the PSEMP Shoreline Restoration list of projects.
  • Work with landowners on replacement armor methods is an opportunity to gain shoreline function. The Shore Friendly program provides waterfront homeowners in many counties with information about how to protect their property with minimal impact to the ecology of Puget Sound. The Shoreline Armoring Implementation Strategy identifies that the greatest near-term opportunities for armoring removal and natural shoreline protection are on residential shorelines, but initiating efforts on non-residential shorelines is also crucial for long-term gains. Public lands continue to provide opportunities to demonstrate successes with removing armor or using soft shore protection methods.

Strategies, Actions, and Effectiveness

  • Shoreline Armoring is a priority focus area for the Partnership's 2018 Action Agenda (scroll to the bottom of the page to view and download activities in the 2018 Action Agenda).
  • Shoreline Armoring Implementation Strategy
  • Restoration and protection projects funded by the National Estuary Program that are associated with the Shoreline Armoring Vital Sign (in the Puget Sound Info National Estuary Atlas)
  • Shore Friendly program
  • What is working to improve nearshore habitat in Puget Sound? View effectiveness fact sheets for nearshore restoration and protection activities.

Contributing Partners

Doris Small (WDFW). Reviewed by the PSEMP Nearshore workgroup.
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