Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program (ESRP) » About the Nearshore

Puget Sound Nearshore

Puget Sound has over 2,500 miles (4,000 km) of shoreline from the Canadian border to the tip of Cape Flattery.

The nearshore is the narrow ribbon of land and shallow water that rings Puget Sound. It includes the shoreline bluffs, the tidal portions of streams and rivers, and shallow water areas out to a depth where sunlight no longer supports marine vegetation.

The nearshore includes upland riparian area as well intertidal and subtidal areas found at the interface of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Puget Sound Shoreline
Puget Sound Shoreline
Nearshore Cross-section
Nearshore Cross-section

Drift Cell

Puget Sound’s shoreline can be divided into segments called drift cells, based on the movement of sediment along the shore by waves and tides. They can range from a few hundred feet to almost 40 miles in length, and are basically compartments within which sediment transport is confined and which are relatively independent of one another. Each cell includes three main parts:

  • source(s) of beach material
  • a transport zone
  • area(s) where materials are deposited

Puget Sound also contains sixteen large river deltas that do not fit well into the drift cells described above.

Process Unit

To make study of the nearshore manageable, PSNERP has developed a method to identify study units. These units are made up of a shoreline drift cell plus the adjacent upland watershed area.

PSNERP concludes that the Puget Sound is composed of:

  • 812 Shoreline Process Units (SPUs)
  • 16 Delta Process Unites (DPUs)

The Nearshore Data Site displays a map that can show the drift cells and process units. Click on "Map features" and select the + sign next to PSNERP. Then select the PSNERP data layers to view.

What is the Nearshore

Restoring Puget Sound Estuarties, Shorelines and Bays

  • Regional Ecosystem Restoration
  • PSNERP as the nearshore component of the action agenda
  • Relation to salmon recovery

Strategy Information



  • Restore size and quality of beaches/bluffs
  • Restore sediment supply and transport
Barrier - Lagoon


  • Restore number and quality of coastal embayments
  • Restore tidal flow and freshwater input
Delta - Fan

Large River Deltas—

  • Restore size and quality of large river delta estuaries and the nearshore processes the deltas support
  • Restore tidal flow and freshwater imput

More information about the nearshore environment of Puget Sound can be found at the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration (PSNERP) website.

Many of the links on this page will re-direct you to that site

Natural Resources Building
1111 Washington St. SE
Olympia, WA 98501
Mailing Address:
Natural Resources Building
600 Capitol Way N
Olympia, WA 98501
Jay Krienitz, ESRP Manager
Phone: 360.902.2572