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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.

Who needs the
Puget Sound nearshore?


Over four million citizens living and working in the Puget Sound region use the nearshore, or the resources it supports, for recreational and economic purposes.

Without a healthy and sustainable nearshore, not only do we risk decline or loss of biological resources, but we risk our health, our economic well-being and our ability to enjoy recreational opportunities.

Father and child enjoy the beach.
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Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project
Updated July 2016