State of the Beach/Beach Indicators/Indicator Issues

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Surfrider Foundation's research into the status of beach health indicators in our coastal states revealed the following:

Beach Access

Coastal access battles continued to be fought from coast to coast. In Hawaii, despite generally good beach access, there is a disturbing trend of coastal homeowners putting up signs or barriers to block public beach accessways. This is also the case in Florida, where there are efforts to pass comprehensive beach access legislation. Beach access was gained at Camp Hero State Park in New York and to a lesser degree at nearby Montauk Point State Park, where surfing has gone from prohibited to restricted. In Illinois, Chicago "decriminalized" surfing. Access was gained in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina but is being restricted at Cape Hatteras in a complex beach ecology versus access conflict. Texas continues to try to beat back challenges to its Open Beaches Act. In California, access is being blocked at Martins Beach in San Mateo County and proposals to change free parking to fee parking were an issue in Santa Barbara County (defeated) and up the coast in Sonoma County.

Water Quality

Water quality (as measured by the number of beach closures and health advisory postings) continued to be a major problem in many coastal states. In Honolulu, Hawaii and in several other major metropolitan areas, cities are dealing with the expensive proposition of upgrading long-neglected sewer infrastructure. As an example, two 36-inch pipelines that carry up to 60 million gallons of sewage a day under Seattle's Salmon Bay were installed in 1935 and are made out of wood. Despite efforts to install sewage overflow tunnels and reservoirs, cities around the Great Lakes still experience combined sewer overflows during periods of heavy rain. More than 27 billion gallons of combined sewer overflows from 460 sewers around New York City impact the city's waterways every year.

In Florida, there was good news when a major sewage outfall pipe to the ocean at Delray Beach was shut down. Drought conditions in California and in the South and Southeast have prompted not only water conservation measures, but also more comprehensive evaluations of water use, which has resulted less polluted runoff flowing to the ocean in some areas. Another fallout from drought has been a more serious look at recycling wastewater for both irrigation and potable use. Bacteria source tracking investigations were initiated in several Great Lakes and ocean coastal states.

There were continued calls for new offshore oil drilling in California, Florida and Virginia, despite the very real threat that an oil spill could pose to the coastal recreation-based economies of those states, as demonstrated by the horrendous Gulf Oil Spill in 2010.

Erosion and Erosion Responses

Erosion continued to eat away at our ever-more-populated shorelines. This has prompted continuing battles over whether coastal property owners can rebuild after their property is damaged in a storm. This issue is particularly acute in Florida, in Texas and in New York/New Jersey, which have suffered substantial damage from recent storms and hurricanes. In Florida and elsewhere in the Southeast, the ecological effects of beach fill projects on both borrow areas and on the beach became more of an issue and a beach fill project in Palm Beach was stopped due to ecological concerns. Federal matching funds for these projects continued to dry up, causing several states and counties (particularly in the Southeast) to allocate additional funds. Completion of beach fill projects in South Carolina and elsewhere on the East Coast has prompted new development closer to the ocean--a risky proposition. Beach fill projects in New Jersey and New York are coming under increasing scrutiny based on both economic concerns and issues raised by local surfers and fishermen. Some of these projects have also raised access issues.

North Carolina's long-term "no hard structures" policy has come under attack with recent legislation to allow "terminal groins" at some barrier islands. New seawalls continue to be built and proposed in California, including some that apparently exist only to facilitate new coastal development – a violation of the California Coastal Act.

Beach Ecology

A survey of the 31 states and territories covered in our report indicated little readily-available information on the ecology of sandy beaches in many states. In fact, the beach seems to be a neglected niche, despite its importance as a vital land/sea link and the home of many species of plants and animals. Beach ecology issues were raised in connection with beach fill projects in Florida, North Carolina and New Jersey. In California there has been a recognition of the importance of beach ecology by the California Coastal Commission and some municipalities have revised beach maintenance policies (grooming, kelp removal).

Other Issues

Efforts to protect ocean ecology in California and Oregon with proposals to establish Marine Protected Areas generated intense interest among various user groups. Proposals for renewed offshore oil drilling, new liquified natural gas facilities and alternative energy (wind, waves, tides) facilities at multiple locations along our coasts has prompted the discussion of Marine Spatial Planning in several coastal states as an attempt to balance resource protection with responsible energy generation. Thankfully, the passing of the National Ocean Policy has resulted in the development of regional ocean plans, which help provide more collaborative decision making for future uses of the coastline, and have resulted in the creation of regional data portals that identify and map existing uses of the coastline. To date, the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan and Mid-Atlantic Ocean Plan have been completed.