Bulkheads Can Change The Beach  
Bulkheads can increase erosion of the beach.
  • Increased Beach Erosion
    When waves reflect off shoreline armoring structures, particularly concrete bulkheads, they can scour away sediments and increase erosion.
  • Loss of Sand
    In time, a sandy beach can be transformed into gravel or cobbles - and may even be scoured down to bedrock, or more commonly in Puget Sound, a hard clay. The footings of bulkheads may also be exposed, leading to undermining and failure.
  • Loss of Surrounding Beaches
    Where long stretches of shore are lined with bulkheads and other hard armoring, beaches composed of fine sediments can erode down to gravel, cobble, or hardpan within a few decades.
  • Loss of Sediment
    Bulkheads can shut off the supply of sand and gravel to the beach, resulting in beach loss and the gradual loss of finer sediment.
  • Loss of Plants
    When bulkheads are built, overhanging trees and shrubs are often removed. This can cause increased siltation, reduced organic matter, and changes in nearshore marine habitat.
  • Loss of Shade
    The loss of bank vegetation reduces shade and shelter on the upper beach. As a result, spawning habitat for forage fish (such as surf smelt) may be degraded.
  • Loss of Habitat
    Bulkheads and other armoring devices can degrade the nearshore habitats that provide food for many benthic feeding fish, including salmon. In addition, spawning areas for surf smelt, sand lance, and herring may be lost due to removal of fine sediments from the intertidal zone.

    Armoring Effects on Species

    Bulkheads and other armoring devices can change important shoreline habitats. Shoreline areas used by fish, shellfish, birds, marine mammals, and other marine life may be damaged.  

    Source: Shoreline Armoring Effects on Coastal Ecology and Biological Resources in Puget Sound, Washington, Coastal Erosion Management Studies, Volume 7, Washington State Department of Ecology, August, 1994.

    Related Topics

    Bulkhead Alternatives, A few possible alternatives.
    Bulkheads, Bulkheads can increase erosion.
    Understanding Erosion, Looking at land loss.
    Landscaping, Low cost, easy care plant management.

    Related Links

    Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Anyone planning certain construction projects or activities in or near state waters, including bulkheads, must obtain an environmental permit commonly known as an HPA. Find information on how to apply.

    Hydraulic Code Rules on Bulkheads, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. These Hydraulic Code Rules apply to the construction of bulkheads for single-family residences on saltwater shores (WAC 220-660-370).

    "The Tide Doesn't Go Out Anymore," The Effect of Bulkheads on Urban Bay Shorelines, Scott L. Douglass and Bradley H. Pickel, University of South Alabama (1999). How bulkheads erode beaches and destroy intertidal ecology. 

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