Natural Shorelines

Shoreline Protection

Friends protects the 400 miles of San Juan County shoreline by advocating for science-based decision making.

San Juan County’s picturesque shorelines provide more than just beautiful views. Underwater, eelgrass meadows and kelp beds serve as feeding, refuge, and migration corridors for crab, forage fish, salmon, and whales. Our shorelines support world class recreation and tourism, and make this a wonderful place to live, work, and visit.

Friends applies science, policy and law to enforce existing regulations and advocate for stronger legal protections of San Juan County’s rugged shoreline. Additionally, Friends works with interested landowners and our local land trust and land bank to permanently protect habitat through conservation easements. Increased shoreline development threatens the health of regional marine species, including forage fish, eelgrass, kelp, salmon, and orcas.

Human impacts such as shoreline armoring, docks, clearing and grading, and storm water runoff systems can devastate San Juan County’s sensitive nearshore environment, disrupting natural processes and sensitive ecosystems. Our work advocates for critical habitat protection and clean waters.

Over 18 miles of local shore are armored with bulkheads, and nearly 500 docks and 2,000 buoys exist offshore. These structures hinder or prevent natural processes.

Living with the Shoreline

As islanders we live in the midst of a complex and amazing marine ecosystem. With limited land area and over 400 miles of shoreline, what happens on the land almost always impacts the marine environment.  When we enjoy our beaches we can often witness and appreciate the delicate balance that supports everything.  From the eelgrass, kelp and forage fish that provide the foundation of marine food webs, to salmon, rockfish, and seabirds, all the way up to the orcas whales and us!

Understanding Erosion

A certain amount of erosion is a natural condition of healthy shorelines. Development activities,such as clearing vegetation and modifying site drainage, can make erosion much worse.If you are concerned about erosion, understand your property and the nature of erosion on your site before taking action. Engineered solutions such as bulkheads might be appropriate for some sites, but hard armoring is often unnecessary and can be very expensive. Plants can help stabilize eroding areas, while maintaining important habitat. On some sites, nourishing the beach with gravel and/or large wood can reduce wave action on the bank and create a more natural, more easily accessible beach.

Water Quality Protection

Stormwater running off the land in the San Juans carries sediments, debris, and pollutants (e.g. fecal coliform, petroleum hydrocarbons, heavy metals, etc.) directly to local waters. These contaminants can persist and adversely affect the health of shellfish, fish, and wildlife, as well as people.Shoreline property owners can help improve water quality by maintaining or creating native vegetation along the shore to slow and filter runoff, installing pervious walks and driveways to allow filtration, directing stormwater flow from gutters and roads into vegetated areas, maintaining your on-site sewage system, and using compost instead of chemical fertilizers.

What we have in the San Juans is special but ongoing stewardship is needed to protect this visual and natural treasure. Explore our Shoreline Stewardship Guide and Research and Maps page to learn more about the actions you can take to support healthy shorelines for fish, wildlife and people.

What are Forage Fish?

Forage fish are small fish that feed on microscopic plants and animals. They are essential to the marine food web. Without them we would see less salmon, seabirds, and whales.

What is Eelgrass?

Eelgrass is a seagrass that is a haven for crabs, fish, and other wildlife. Eelgrass provides habitat, nursery grounds, and food. It also mitigates wave energy and trapping fine sediments.

What is Kelp?

Kelp is an algae that grows from the seafloor. It softens the force of waves; provides a resting area for seals, otters, and waterfowl; and shelters fish, octopuses, and other marine creatures.

What are Feeder Bluffs?

Feeder bluffs are actively eroding coastline cliffs. They provide sediment that feeds beaches through wave action.Feeder bluffs maintain our loved local beaches.

Protecting your Investment for Future Generations

Protection of remaining, intact shoreline habitat is the most efficient and effective method to ensure marine ecosystem recovery for today, and into the future. A conservation easement provides a voluntary tool that can afford permanent protection and be fully compatible with private, residential ownership and activities. Conservation easements are legal, recorded documents that provide a flexible way to protect key scenic and natural features while the property remains in private ownership and use. In addition, preservation may entitle property owners to significant economic benefits through purchase or tax breaks.

As 90% of the waterfront tax parcels in San Juan County are in private, residential ownership, voluntary stewardship is an essential ingredient to maintaining a healthy community for people and nature. San Juan County is fortunate to have two organizations that work with interested property owners to permanently protect priority habitats, species and processes: the San Juan Preservation Trust and the San Juan County Land Bank.  Friends of the San Juans works closely with land conservation organizations and interested property owners to identify and protect priority habitats, species and processes.

“We believe our property is more valuable if we and our neighbors protect the shoreline. Orcas pass daily in the summer. They need salmon. Salmon need forage fish. Juvenile salmon and forage fish need protection of eelgrass beds. Eelgrass needs clean water. Strengthening our shoreline protections will be good for ecosystems and for the long term economy of these islands.”

Val and Leslie VeirsSan Juan Island
friendsShoreline Protection