Mangrove vegetation provides natural protection against coastal hazards like flooding and erosion. In spite of their economic and societal value, mangrove forests have experienced a worldwide decline due to human activities. Bamboo structures, formed by poles driven into the soil, are being used to create a sheltered environment for mangrove restoration. The lack of design rules for the structures has led to mixed success rates in their implementation. Improving future designs requires a better understanding of how the bamboo poles affect waves and currents. Currents cause drag forces on the poles, which depend on flow acceleration through the elements (blockage), and the distance from wakes of upstream cylinders (sheltering). We developed a model that predicts the bulk drag coefficient of dense arrays of emergent cylinders in a current, including blockage, sheltering and a balance between turbulence production and dissipation. The model could reproduce measured bulk drag coefficients from the literature within a deviation of 20%. The model also showed that anisotropic structures with small spanwise spacing and large streamwise separation maximize the bulk drag coefficient, and the energy dissipation per pole. The application of the model can guide the design of future mangrove restoration efforts.