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Bulkhead (barrier)

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Title: Bulkhead (barrier)  
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Subject: Bulkhead, SS Mohegan, Shipbuilding, Stoplogs, Geoprofessions
Collection: Seawalls, Shipbuilding
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Bulkhead (barrier)

This example of multiple structures includes a massive seawall and riprap revetment.

A bulkhead is a retaining wall, such as a bulkhead within a ship or a watershed retaining wall. It may also be used in mines, to contain flooding.

Coastal bulkheads are most often referred to as seawalls, bulkheading, or riprap revetments. These manmade structures are constructed along shorelines with the purpose of controlling beach erosion. Construction materials commonly used include wood pilings, commercially developed vinyl products, large boulders stacked to form a wall, or a seawall built of concrete or another hard substance.


property owners typically seek to develop bulkheads in an attempt to slow large landslide erosion caused by wave action.

The Cape Hatteras lighthouse stands behind a seawall of sandbags that temporarily stabilized the eroding shore; wave action destroyed the seawall soon after it was built.

Studies over recent decades have resulted in public awareness as to potential negative effects that bulkheads may bring to beaches and the interconnected habitat areas of fish, plants, and birds. Many states have enacted laws to protect beaches to allow for future use of the beaches, as well as protect these natural habitats. As of 1971, Washington State property owners are required to obtain a permit for the construction of bulkheads that adhere to the strict regulations of the Shoreline Management Act (SMA), enacted by the state legislature.


  • Effects 1
  • Gallery 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


While bulkheads may serve their purpose to slow erosion at a bluff or beachfront, they commonly cause a domino effect of change to the beach profile. The increased wave reflection caused by their presence can result in an increased re-suspension of sand in the water in front of the bulkhead. This can lead to more sand being distributed in the alongshore direction, away from the beach profile. Due to coastal littoral drift, the sand would then instead be distributed toward the ends of the bulkheads, leaving larger gravel and sometimes bedrock in place of the once sandy beach.

Since sand is a natural habitat for several species of fish to lay their eggs and is also the only surface in which eelgrass can take root, these natural processes can no longer take place in this now sand-stripped location. The absence of eelgrass means that the spawning habitat for herring and the protection for juvenile salmon would no longer be present. This new sand-stripped habitat also encourages other species, such as kelp, to move in.


See also


  • - PDFShore Stewards News - Bulkheads and Your Beach
  • - PDFShore Stewards News - Creosote
  • Washington State Shoreline Management Act
  • Johannessen, J. 2000. *Alternatives to Bulkheads in the Puget Sound Region: What is Soft Shore Protection & What is Not? In: Proceedings of Coasts at the Millennium, Coastal Society’s 17th International Conference. July 2000. In Press.
  • *Portions of article information obtained from

- PDF(Soft Shore Protection as an Alternative to Bulkheads—Projects And Monitoring

  • First International Conference on Soft Shore Protection Against Coastal Erosion
  • Shoreline Management and Stabilization Using Vegetation

External links

  • Conceptual Description Of A Soft-shore Alternative To Marine Bulkheads And Revetments: The “Root Wall”©
  • Washington Shore Stewards Website: Use soft armoring techniques when appropriate
  • Washington Department of Ecology Website: Washington State Shorelands & Environmental Assistance
  • – PDFBeach Nourishment on Puget Sound: A Review of Existing Projects and Potential Applications
  • – PDFAlternative Shoreline Stabilization Evaluation Project – Final Report, Prepared For:. Puget Sound Action Team. P.O. Box 40900
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