Shoreline Development

Puget Sound’s 2,500 miles of shoreline are among the most valuable and fragile of 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.

The islands of San Juan County have 408 miles of marine shoreline – and are located at the nexus of the sounds and straits of the Salish Sea connecting with the Pacific.

Photo by Coastal Geologic Services

People often build bulkheads or other structures to harden the shoreline against the shaping forces of wind, waves, tides, and natural erosion.  And 50% of recent shoreline structures in San Juan County have been built without County or State permit.

Shoreline armoring, the practice of constructing bulkheads, seawalls and rock revetments, actually prevents the natural process of erosion from supplying sand and gravel that forms and maintains our beaches.  Further, these structures change the pattern of waves and move the elements of a natural beach or shore completely away from the property, leaving an area barren of habitat or recreational value.

Preventing damage is far more effective and less expensive than restoring beaches after all the trees and vegetation have been removed, the sand or pebbles have washed away, leaving a shore where no animals or  fish can live.

Natural erosion, when sediment and feeder bluffs are allowed to reach the water, creates essential habitat for herring, surf smelt, salmon, and many other species.

Beach restoration photo by Coastal Geologic Services

Beach restoration and photo by Coastal Geologic Services


The SJ-LIO has developed strategies to restore and maintain islands’ shorelines in their natural and dynamic state:

  • Provide information and work with landowners regarding the importance of retaining and restoring native vegetation and about geologic processes.
  • Improve on compliance and enforcement capacity.
  • Identify and implement shoreline protection tools including land preservation via acquisition and conservation easements, restoration, and protection of marine areas consistent with treaty rights.
  • Restore native vegetation, trees, and ground cover.
  • Provide convenient landowner access to technical assistance for maintaining views, shoreline access, and ecological function of the shoreline.


Implementation Committee Meeting:

Bimonthly first Thursdays, 11:00 am -1:00 pm, 7/1, 9/2, 11/4
See San Juan County website Agenda Center for agendas and meeting links

Accountability Oversight Committee Meetings:

Schedule pending

Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve, 10441 Bayview Edison Road, Mount Vernon



San Juan County Oil Spill Risk Consequences Assessment and Emergency Response Towing Vessel Cost Evaluation, March 2019