State of the Beach/State Reports/AK/Beach Description

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Alaska is bounded by two oceans and two seas. Glaciers have carved many large islands from the mainland and retreated to uncover a shoreline with abundant narrow fjords and craggy headlands. Volcanic activity has formed numerous islands. As a result of its varied coastline and its vast extent, the marine shoreline of Alaska measures 44,500 miles (note: the original ACMP document identified the coastal shoreline mileage as 33,904 miles, however, recent Alaska coastline GIS surveys indicates the higher number). The State has a three-tiered coastal zone based on the proximity to the land-sea interface.

The ice-stressed coastal ecosystems of Alaska are unique in the United States, although its diverse coastline includes every ecosystem found in the contiguous states except tropical. Alaska’s fertile continental shelf totals 830,000 square miles, or 74 percent of the nation’s total. Many species of migratory fish, birds, and marine mammals use the islands, estuaries and coastal streams and ponds for breeding, spawning, birthing and resting. Some of the world’s richest commercial fish stocks are found along Alaska’s continental shelf. The unique biophysical character of Alaska’s coastal zone is of national and international scientific and economic value. Its potential oil and gas reserves are among the largest in the world. Nearly all of the minerals classified as strategic by the Federal government, ranging from antimony to zinc, are found in Alaska.

The diverse, and sometimes conflicting, uses of Alaska’s coastal zone present numerous opportunities to balance preservation, conservation, and development of the many coastal resources for future recreation, education, scientific study, conservation, fishing, subsistence use, and oil and gas, mineral, and timber extraction.

Contact Info for the Lead Coastal Zone Management Agency

Alaska Department of Natural Resources
General contact information

Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Office of Project Management and Permitting (OPMP)

Coastal Zone Management Program

IMPORTANT UPDATE - An agreement to continue the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program could not be reached during a Special Session in 2011 as the measure failed by one vote in the House before adjournment. As a result, the program ended on June 30, 2011, and the state therefore lost the ability to have local input to the Federal government in important decisions on coastal development projects. Adding to the bad news, a ballot measure to reestablish the Alaska Coastal Program (Prop 2) failed to garner enough votes for passage in Alaska's Primary Election in August 2012.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources formerly oversaw the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP). The primary authority for the Coastal Program is the Coastal Management Act of 1977. Alaska has/had? a three-tiered coastal zone based on the proximity to the land-sea interface. Local coastal programs may also establish more specific boundaries. While the Coastal Program was originally established under the Coastal Management Act of 1977, between 2003 and 2005 Alaska adopted, and OCRM approved, enforceable policies for the Coastal Program that significantly changed statewide coastal standards and the role of local district governments in the Coastal Program.

Alaska's coastal zone is home to many important industries, including seafood processing, oil and gas development, mining, and timber harvesting. Its potential oil and gas reserves are among the largest in the world. Nearly all of the minerals classified as strategic by the federal government are found in Alaska. The coast also supports a rich cultural heritage with its many Native Alaskan tribes who rely on the state's natural resources for subsistence living. The long-term prosperity of these coastal cultures depends upon a healthy environment.

The Office of Project Management and Permitting (OPMP), formerly known as the Division of Governmental Coordination (DGC), is located in the Department of Natural Resources. OPMP was the lead agency for coordinating the Alaska Coastal Management Program. OPMP is the lead agency for state participation in implementation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). OPMP is coordinating the Coastal Impact Assistance Program and when needed, coordinates the State's position on special resource management issues.

Due to Alaska's immense size, much of the authority to carry out CZMA programs was delegated to coastal districts.

The Alaska Coastal Management Act [AS 46.40.210(2)] allows for the formation of coastal districts in areas that contain a portion of Alaska's coastal area. Coastal districts can be formed either by local governments or, in areas outside the boundaries of local governments, by coastal resource service areas (CRSAs).

Within organized cities or boroughs, coastal management is the responsibility of the city council or borough assembly. Local officials usually integrate coastal management with other planning authorities and may implement it through land use regulations and other local planning techniques.

CRSAs give people living in rural Alaska the opportunity to affect the management of their coastal resources. However, the coastal management programs of CRSAs can only be implemented through participation in the State consistency review process.

Prior to the 2005 ACMP program changes, 33 coastal districts participated in the program to varying degrees, which meant they had district plans with their own enforceable policies that had to be considered in state permitting decisions. As part of the 2005 program changes, the State developed new guidance for local districts that want to participate in the ACMP. Previously, the districts were able to write district policies regarding a use or resource anywhere in their districts regardless of whether or how the subjected use or resource was addressed by another State or federal law. The 2005 ACMP regulations require that district enforceable policies: must relate to the uses and practices identified in the new ACMP regulations; may not address any matters regulated by DEC (i.e. air, land, and water); may not adopt, duplicate, repeat, restate, or incorporate by reference a State standard or other State or federal law; must be clear and concise as to the activities and persons affected by its requirements, and use precise, prescriptive and enforceable language.

Five of the 33 districts formally dropped out of the program when the new state standards and guidelines were implemented. At the time of a program evaluation in 2007, 14 of the remaining 28 districts had plans that were completed and adopted by the state (Aleutians West CRSA, City of Bethel, Bristol Bay Borough, City of Craig, Haines Borough, City of Hoonah, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, City of Nome, City of Pelican, City and Borough of Sitka, City of Skagway, City of Thorne Bay, City and Borough of Yakutat, and City of Valdez). Fourteen other districts’ coastal management plans were in various stages of completion, including: Aleutians East Borough, the Municipality of Anchorage, Bering Straits CRSA, Bristol Bay CRSA, Cenaliulriit CRSA, City of Cordova, City and Borough of Juneau, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Kodiak Island Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough, Northwest Arctic Borough, North Slope Borough, and City of Whittier. Five district plans were in mediation due to disagreement between the district and the DNR on issues such as the designation of significant habitat areas and subsistence areas. As of early 2008, three district plans were in mediation, one was in review with the ACMP, and the rest were either awaiting NOAA approval or local adoption.


  1. Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon. "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores." Coastal Management 27:187-217. 1999.
  2. Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon. "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores." Coastal Management 27:187-217. 1999.

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