State of the Beach/State Reports/AL

From Beachapedia

Home Beach Indicators Methodology Findings Beach Manifesto State Reports Chapters Perspectives Model Programs Bad and Rad Conclusion



Alabama’s white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to 600 miles of lush bayou and river shorelines, attract thousands of visitors annually. Unfortunately, the state does not have thorough policies in place to protect these vital economic resources. Although there is much more to be done, Alabama made improvements in 2018 with the release of the Draft Hazard Mitigation Plan, which is the first time the state has identified coastal vulnerabilities to climate change.

Alabama has generally good beach access but little in the way of comprehensive beach access information. There is good beach water quality monitoring information but only fair water quality. Beach erosion monitoring data is fair to good but there is very little in the way of policies or guidance for erosion response. There is some beach fill information but very little information on the extent of shoreline armoring. Beach and wetlands ecology information is generally good. The Alabama Coastal Area Management Program website on has very little utility. It should at least link to ADEM's coastal programs website which does provide good water quality, coastal permitting and beach ecology information.

Alabama Ratings


(+) Alabama’s shoreline armament policy requires that feasible non-structural shoreline stabilization alternatives be utilized before permitting hard stabilization methods, and the state is developing a Living Shorelines Guidance Document for homeowners to encourage more use of soft stabilization methods. As of August 2017, a draft has been completed and is currently under review.

(+) The Gulf of Mexico Alliance is a partnership of the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, with the goal of significantly increasing regional collaboration to enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The five U.S. Gulf States have identified six priority issues that are regionally significant and can be effectively addressed through increased collaboration at local, state, and federal levels: Water Quality, Habitat Conservation and Restoration, Ecosystem Integration and Assessment, Nutrients & Nutrient Impacts, Coastal Community Resilience, and Environmental Education.

(+) The “5 Rivers – Alabama’s Delta Resource Center” is a facility of the ADCNR State Lands Division and home of the Coastal Section offices. It provides public access to over 250,000 acres that comprise part of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Funding from the ACAMP helped to complete some of the facilities at 5 Rivers, including a power boat dock, canoe and kayak landing, walking trails, picnic shelters and tables, and some permeable parking.

(+) Alabama intends to develop a Coastal Area and Marine Spatial Planning guide that would involve a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of coastal areas. In practical terms, the guide would provide a public policy process to better determine how the coasts are sustainably used and protected now and for future generations.

(-) The state's Coastal Construction Line creates setback policies and gives the environmental department jurisdiction over controlling shoreline stabilization structures seaward of the line - however the line hasn't been updated since its establishment in 1979. The hard line on a dynamic shoreline has resulted in areas where the line is actually underwater! Causing the state agency to lose jurisdiction over controlling, preventing, or permitting stabilization structures.

(-) Each county has a hazard mitigation plan, yet climate change and sea level rise are not addressed in coastal policies, nor has any statewide adaptation plan been created.

(-) Although shoreline stabilization policies promote the use of soft/living structures, hard stabilization techniques are by far the most prevalent mechanism

(-) Although not on the coast, according to the EPA there are areas in central Alabama where conventional septic systems fail regularly, due to the impermeable clayey soils of the area. Not only that, many homes have "straight pipe" (no treatment) sewer discharges. The University of Alabama conducted onsite inspections of approximately 1000 group-randomized properties in two central Alabama counties to determine how common straight pipes are among unsewered homes. Preliminary data from Wilcox County indicate that more than 60% of unsewered homes discharge raw sewage through straight pipes.

(-) Alabama is the only Gulf state that does not have a law to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to place dredged sand on adjacent barrier island beaches.

(-) In response to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, there was a panicky and ill-conceived effort to protect Dauphin Island. Large quantities of sand were excavated from a series of pits on the Mississippi Sound side of the island to build a berm along the Gulf side, a move designed to keep oil from washing up over the beach in case of a storm. The berm was never needed. 22 pits were dug into the Sound side of the island to excavate the necessary sand. These pits quickly became ponds of standing water. The ponds are steadily eroding and growing to the point that by April 2012 some were open to the sea, and subject to further erosion by waves and tide. More info and photos.

(-) Counting payments for the reconstruction of homes and infrastructure, and adjusting for inflation, the total of Federal funds spent since 1978 on Dauphin Island approaches $200 million – for an island with a resident population of 1,300 people. The Dauphin Islanders want even more help than that – as much as $60 million for a “beach nourishment” project in which sand would be dredged from seven miles offshore and pumped onto their beaches. Read more. A slightly revised version of this project was scheduled to begin in 2015.

(-) Alabama puts a high priority on beach access but does not have an inventory of the number beach access locations or their condition.

(-) There is a complete lack of data and public knowledge and understanding of the affects of sea level rise in coastal Alabama. A strategy to implement a sea level rise educational program for local decision makers, especially local government officials and staff, should be developed.

(-) A "non-regulated use" may have a direct and significant impact on the coastal area but does not require a state permit or federal consistency certification. Examples of non-regulated uses include construction and other activities on Gulf beaches and dunes, commercial and residential development greater than five acres, groundwater extraction, and shoreline stabilization and erosion mitigation.

(-) NOAA noted in their latest evaluation of the ACAMP: "Perhaps the single greatest missed opportunity to reach the public with educational and coastal program information is the ACAMP – ADCNR website. It is located on the ADCNR website which is entitled “Outdoor Alabama” and is located at – not an easy connection for the general public to make. The ACAMP website is extremely brief, has only four or five links, two of which are “mis-connected,” and is of very limited value to a member of the public."


To see all of Surfrider Foundation's coastal victories and campaigns, go here.

State of the Beach Report: Alabama
Alabama Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
2011 7 SOTB Banner Small.jpg