What is the problem with shoreline armor (aka. bulkheads)?

Waterfront impacts vary depending on the specific context of each property, but the cumulative impact of shoreline armor has led to declines in quality habitat for many Puget Sound species.  The type and number of impacts depend on the form of armor involved and the nature of the property.  Potential (and commonly observed) impacts include:

  • Loss of upper beach and backshore (beach area above MHHW), due to increased beach erosion
  • Reduction of the area of dry beach at high tide due to increased beach erosion
  • Reduction of the amount of accumulated large wood (drift wood and logs) and beach wrack (shells, seaweed, etc. left on the beach at the high tide line)
  • Reduction of available forage fish spawning habitat (herring, sand lance...)
  • Reduction of area available for recreation due to increased beach erosion
  • Modification or removal of connections between the water and land, which makes access difficult for people and for wildlife
  • Reduction of the movement of materials and organics between aquatic and terrestrial systems 
  • Reduction of the quality of riparian (shoreline vegetation) functions, such as food delivery, wood recruitment, and shelter
  • Altered drainage patterns to the beach
  • Passive erosion
  • Limitation of the natural retreat of the shoreline, which narrows the remaining available beach
  • Altered sediment delivery and transport, which affects the availability of materials that build Puget Sound beaches
  • Reduction of the delivery of sediment into the system and reduction the overall amount of available sediment moving along the shoreline in the local "drift cell" or littoral cell
  • Changed sediment movement along the shoreline, which causes localized erosion down-drift
  • Altered wave action, which can shift the direction or impact of wave energy to neighboring sites
  • Increased erosion and scour on the beach through wave reflection, which can undermine the stability of shoreline armor over time...

Learn more: Washington State Department of Ecology website

Source: Gianou, K. 2014. Soft Shoreline Stabilization: Shoreline Master Program Planning and Implementation Guidance. Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program, Washington Department of Ecology, Olympia, WA. Publication no. 14-06-009.) 

Show All Answers

1. Do I need to protect my shoreline from erosion?
2. What should I do with all the water draining down my slope?
3. How should I manage trees for views (and plants in general) on my shoreline?
4. Are there alternatives to bulkheads and what to alternatives, or soft shore projects, look like?
5. Who can help with shoreline permits?
6. I can't remove my bulkhead. Can I still do something to contribute to a healthy Puget Sound?
7. What is the problem with shoreline armor (aka. bulkheads)?