Course correction needed for rapidly changing beaches

Submitted by Friends of the San Juans.

With more than 400 miles of coastline, San Juan County is a sanctuary of breathtaking seaside views. When left unchanged by the hands of humans, shorelines and the wide range of life they support are amazingly resilient. Often a fear of coastal erosion (a natural process that builds our beaches), instigates owners to build a bulkhead; this is known as “shoreline armoring.” Seawalls, bulkheads, and riprap are a few examples. Shoreline armor directly buries and alters safe havens essential to small salmon and their prey, and disrupts the processes that form and maintain the beaches we all love.

Friends of the San Juans just released findings from a decade’s worth of research that illuminates how San Juan County’s waterfront properties are “shoring up” in the face of development. The results are shocking. More than 90% of new shoreline armor installed in San Juan County between 2009 and 2019 was built without the necessary state and/or local permits before being installed. Despite knowing just how harmful armoring can be to habitat, the installation of new shoreline armor is greatly outpacing removal.

Friends is discussing this research with land managers and decision-makers, and working cooperatively with state and municipal officials on solutions to safeguard San Juan County’s beaches. Friends also provides free technical assistance to help shoreline property owners protect their investments and support marine food webs at the same time. Contact Tina at if you are concerned about erosion and want to learn how to maintain a healthy natural beach, or are interested in removing an existing bulkhead and want to learn about alternatives to hard armor.

Tina Whitman, Science Director at Friends of the San Juans shares, “It’s so important that we understand what’s actually happening on the ground. This research provides an objective look at current armor and permit trends. It clearly shows that if we are serious about recovering salmon and orca, we need much better tracking and permit and enforcement systems.”

Learn more about the research and join the conversation around healthy shorelines:

Tracking Change: Shoreline Armoring in San Juan County, a virtual and free event.

Tuesday, Dec. 6, from noon-1 p.m. Register at

More Information:

“Course Correction Needed for Rapidly Changing Shorelines,” and supporting images and graphs can be found at

The “Research Fact Sheet,” by Puget Sound National Estuary Program can be viewed at

Read Friends’ full report at