Healthy Shorelines

Protect and restore marine shorelines by improving compliance, incentives, and strategic planning rooted in an understanding of coastal processes, with a focus on bluff-backed beaches.
The marine shorelines of Puget Sound are an integral part of life in the region. Puget Sound shores provide important habitat for marine life and food webs and have been integral to Coast Salish peoples’ lives and cultural practices for millennia. They are also the location of early industry and development, the backdrop for major cities, the intersection of many transportation corridors, and where people live, recreate, and explore nature.

Across Puget Sound, 715 miles, or nearly 30 percent, of shorelines are armored, and over half of those are on private property. Shoreline armor, including seawalls and bulkheads, is intended to prevent erosion and protect homes and infrastructure. However, armor makes a dynamic shoreline static, disrupting many of the natural processes that replenish sand and gravel to the beaches of Puget Sound. With armored shorelines, beach material can wash away more quickly, threatening infrastructure and nearshore habitat. Armor can also leach toxics into the water supply and harm aquatic organisms. Impacts from armored shorelines include a loss of spawning habitat for forage fish and loss of food sources, rearing locations, and resting zones for juvenile salmon.

In some places, armor must be maintained to protect public safety and existing infrastructure. However, there also are many opportunities to preserve natural shorelines along Puget Sound where armor is not necessary, or to restore previously modified shoreline by removing armor or replacing it with more natural protective options called “soft shore protection.”1 For this strategy to be effective, regulatory programs, incentive programs for armor removal or replacement, and funding and technical support for project planning and implementation must work collectively to improve the effectiveness of protection policies, reduce demand for new hard armor and advance the pace and scale of shoreline restoration.

Implementing the Shoreline Armoring and other Implementation Strategies, supports the success of this strategy.
  • Protect habitat from conversion, fragmentation
  • Remove barriers to flow

Increase and improve shoreline regulation implementation, compliance, enforcement, and communication. (ID #14)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Evaluate and improve implementation of existing shoreline regulations and policies (which could include single-family residences as well as emergency construction permits);
  • Conduct effective and active compliance monitoring and enforcement to support and reinforce permitting decisions by state and local regulatory agencies;
  • Identify nearshore restoration opportunities in industrial and municipal areas;
  • Prevent conversion of nearshore habitats through voluntary acquisition and conservation easements;
  • Review and improve shoreline regulations including the incorporation of potential future changes to shorelines from climate change (including sea level rise);
  • Cultivate political support for regulatory staff to implement existing regulations and conduct compliance, monitoring, and enforcement.

Expand and improve incentives and education for residential property owners to motivate voluntary actions for healthy shorelines. (ID #15)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Educate, communicate with, and assist marine and shoreline property owners and the community to best pursue voluntary ecologically-friendly shoreline management alternatives;
  • Combine communication with financial, social, and technical incentives (for example, tax benefits, market- based solutions, or restoration permit streamlining) to accelerate shoreline management on residential properties such as shoreline armor prevention and removal;
  • Increase coordination among regional and local partners to ensure that existing knowledge and resources are leveraged, and that related programs are funded appropriately for the long-term.

Improve long-term strategic planning to reduce development (for example, armor) impacts in the future across all land-use types. (ID #16)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Develop and complete a standardized framework for parcel-scale mapping of Puget Sound shoreline attributes and prioritization of protection, followed by a comprehensive parcel-by-parcel prioritized analyses of all marine shorelines, by drift cell, that includes habitat value, ecosystem services, risk of development, vulnerability to sea level rise, and the frequency and intensity of storms;
  • Make this information and other regional information and criteria easily accessible to inform strategic decision-making and land use planning;
  • Improve education, coordination, and communication between agencies, partners, and community members to leverage and catalyze beneficial projects for restoration and habitat improvement;
  • Implement restoration and protection to improve beach processes and function identified through strategic planning at multiple geographic scales.

Increase and improve coastal process-based design and technical training. (ID #17)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Educate private sector entities, landowners, engineers, consultants, and permitting agencies on increasing regional capacity to guide shoreline design processes and codevelop BMPs;
  • Implement a regional monitoring strategy to assess cumulative effects and improve process design;
  • Compile and analyze existing monitoring information on implemented armor removal and soft shore projects to improve project design;
  • Develop a programmatic framework for technical training.
  • Develop a framework to identify highest priority salmon habitats to protect in Puget Sound.
Implementation Considerations

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 to integrate human wellbeing considerations and climate change responses into efforts include:

Human Wellbeing

  • Protect and restore shorelines in places and in such a way as to reduce human health risks, enhance place attachment, protect opportunities for cultural practices, and expand equitable access to responsible recreation and stewardship.
  • Expand inclusion of vulnerable populations and underserved communities in governance and decisions about how and where we protect and restore marine shorelines.
  • Prioritize opportunities to realize multiple benefits for habitat, livelihoods, and human wellbeing in protecting and restoring marine shorelines.

Climate Change

  • Expand research on the effects of sea level rise and ocean acidification on marine shorelines.
  • Prioritize shoreline restoration in areas with long-term carbon storage potential that enhances resilience to sea level rise, larger storm surges, and other aspects of climate change.
  • Incorporate sea level rise, coastal squeeze, and storm surges into long-term strategic planning and shoreline regulations and management decisions. Utilize the Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS) and other related sea level rise tools in planning.
  • Build climate change information into existing educational programs for residential property owners about healthy shorelines.
Ongoing Programs

Ongoing programs provide regulatory oversight, technical support, implementation resources, funding, or guidance and serve as the critical foundation for Puget Sound recovery. The following is a list of example state and federal ongoing programs that help to implement this strategy. Many more local, tribal nations, and nongovernmental programs exist that support this strategy.

What We're Measuring

We are achieving our recovery goals of increasing functioning habitat and maintaining thriving species and food webs in the Puget Sound region by increasing the amount of protected natural marine and estuarine, shorelines (those not armored), and by removing or softening armor where it currently exists on estuaries and marine shorelines. Indicators of success include:

Feeder bluffs in functional condition

This indicator measures the amount (length and percent) of Puget Sound feeder bluff shorelines that have been armored. Feeder bluffs are eroding coastal bluffs that deliver the sand and gravel to maintain Puget Sound’s beaches and spits. Beaches and bluffs provide critical habitat for the region’s fish and wildlife, including spawning beaches for forage fish and rearing habitat for juvenile salmon. Shoreline armor disrupts the natural supply of sediment and can lead to the loss of beaches and degraded nearshore habitat.

Feeder bluffs in functional condition
By: Shoreline Length

Extent of feeder bluff shorelines where armor is present (orange) or not present (blue) by Puget Sound Local Area. The 11 Local Area geographies are derived from the Puget Sound Partnership Action Areas to represent local communities working to advance the Partnership’s Action Agenda.

Current Legislative Actions (4 Bills)
2024 | State Bill HB 2085 & SB 5922
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill HB 2286
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill HB 2289
Status: Did not pass
2024 | State Bill SB 5876
Status: Did not pass