State of the Beach/State Reports/FL/Beach Access

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Florida Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access85
Water Quality85
Beach Erosion9-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill7-
Shoreline Structures5 4
Beach Ecology4-
Surfing Areas56
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


The state constitution says all beaches below the “mean high-water line,” or the wet sand, are public. Court cases have found that the public has the right to the dry sand parts of beaches in two instances:

  • One is if the public has established a “prescriptive easement,” using a particular beach for the past 20 years without objection from private landowners.
  • The other is through “customary use,” which is the “ancient,” peaceful use of the beach by the public.

Florida regulations and laws that help shape public beach access policy include Section 161.053, F.S., and Chapter 62B-33, F.A.C. Specifically, the conditions within Chapter 62B-33.0051, F.A.C., prohibit the loss of lateral public access.

Sand for the People: The Continuing Controversy Over Public Access to Florida’s Beaches, by Erika Kranz appeared in the The Florida Bar Journal, June, 2009 Volume 83, No. 6. This article is an excellent summary of beach access policy and case law in Florida and several other states.

A recent beach access controversy in Florida was over land rights when public funding is used to replenish privately owned beach property. In Walton County v. Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc., 998 So.2d 1102 (Fla. Sep. 29, 2008) the state argued that beaches should become public property after undergoing expansion or renourishment projects if the sand used is paid for with tax dollars. Private property owners claim that this action constitutes a judicial taking, making it illegal.

On September 29, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of Walton County. “The Florida Supreme Court held that a state statute which prohibits ‘beach renourishment’ without a permit did not effect a taking of littoral (beachfront) property, even though it altered the long-standing rights of the owners to accretion on their land and direct access to the ocean.”

On June 15, 2009 the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2010 in favor of the Public Trust Doctrine and public beach access.

Below are excerpts from an article discussing this issue:

Beach Nourishment: Supreme Court To Decide Who Owns the New Sand
“Where beach erosion strikes, many communities and governments turn to ‘beach nourishment’ (dredging or trucking in and depositing [more] sand) to replenish the beach. However, when governments or communities pay to replenish beaches along privately owned beachfront property — or create new beaches by trucking in sand — what does that mean for the landowners' waterfront rights and property value? A Florida case accepted June 15, 2009, by the US Supreme Court will address this thorny and increasingly common issue… "The Court [will examine] whether the Florida Supreme Court violated the private property rights of waterfront landowners in a seven-mile-long beach restoration project. ...At issue is whether [the FL] high court violated the US Constitution's takings clause when it upheld a FL government plan to create a state-owned public beach, 60 feet to 120 feet wide, between private waterfront land and the Gulf of Mexico near Destin, Fla." The larger legal question could have national implications: "Whether the state's legislation to restore storm-eroded beaches along the ocean or lakeshores, modifying the private property boundary line, constitutes a judicial taking or violates the due process clause."

Several Surfrider Foundation chapters in Florida, along with others interested in a establishing a comprehensive set of laws to protect citizen's access to public beaches have drafted a Florida Open Beaches Act that they hope to have adopted by the Florida legislature. More info.

The 2010 FACT report, within its section on coastal access, outlines two goals:

  • To provide and enhance public access to natural, historical, cultural, and recreational coastal resources that does not damage or degrade these resources
  • To promote and enhance community awareness of public access points, as well as the rights and responsibilities surrounding access.

These coastal access goals correspond with the Florida State Comprehensive Plan (Chapter 187, F.S.) “to ensure the public’s right to reasonable access to beaches.” The FCMP goals are also in accord with NOAA’s strategic framework for the Coastal Zone Management Program that identifies “providing public access to the coast” as a priority issue.

According to the 2010 FACT report, the FCMP administers the Coastal Partnership Initiative and the State Agency and Water Management District grant program; both are competitive grant programs that support the protection, management and enhancement of Florida’s ocean and coastal resources. The annual allocation of funds for public access projects statewide was variable over time during the period FY 2000 through FY 2010, for a total of $3.9 million. The annual allocation ranged between $159,410 and $586,325. Between 2000 and 2010 seventy-two Public Access projects were funded for an average of 6.5 per year. Public Access projects received the second highest number of projects funded and the third highest amount of the total funding for this time period between the six categories.

The 2010 FACT report presents an expanded discussion of the most recent changes in 65 indicators in order to help illustrate how resources have responded to policies and activities implemented by coastal resource managers. The coastal access section discusses and tracks ten indicators:

  • Number of Access Points
  • Number and Acres of Park Areas, Lands, and Trails Managed for Recreation
  • Number of Recreational Boating Facilities
  • Adequacy of Public Access and Ways to Improve Access
  • Frequency of Visits to the Coast
  • Types of Coastal Access and Number of Participants
  • Number of Visitors at Recreational Areas - State Parks, Greenways and Trails, Aquatic Preserves
  • Number of Visitors on Southeast Florida Reefs
  • Number of Recreational Boat Registrations
  • FCMP Grants and Programs to Improve Coastal Access

The Division of State Lands has primary responsibility for the Florida Forever land acquisition program, the world's largest conservation land buying program - collectively, the State of Florida has protected over 535,643 acres of land with $1.8 billion in Florida Forever funds through December 2006. Since its inception in July 2001 through September 2006, the state’s Florida Forever land acquisition program has been extremely successful as evidenced by the protection of: over 231,730 acres of Strategic Habitat Conservation Areas (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission); 374,890 acres of habitat conservation areas (FNAI), and over 580 listed species locations of 190 different species, 98 of which are state-listed as endangered, 41 state-listed threatened, and 17 species of special concern; 513,050 acres of ecological greenways (Office of Greenways & Trails); 68,260 acres of under-represented natural communities; 54,540 acres of natural floodplains; 530,550 acres important to significant water bodies; 5,060 acres of fragile coastline; 236,210 acres of functional wetlands; 524,846 acres of significant groundwater recharge areas; 30,130 acres of land to support priority recreational trails; and, 268,330 acres of sustainable forest land.

In January 2009 an article in the Miami Herald reported that the Florida Senate was considering halting the Florida Forever program to stave off more pressing budget cuts. The proposal would stop the state from issuing the remaining $250 million of $300 million worth of bonds that are issued each year to buy conservation land across the state. Although the move would save about $20 million in debt and interest payments each year, it would suspend a program to protect wild areas from development that has long been considered a national model.

The property boundary between public and private lands at the beach is Mean High Water except where a beach has been restored. An Erosion Control Line is established prior to a restoration to assure that the new beach is all publicly owned. More information is available from the Division of State Lands.

The State is responsible for statewide management of beaches and the counties are established as countywide beach preservation districts in Chapter 161, Florida Statutes.

The Strategic Beach Management Plan presents an overall beach management scheme. Most coastal counties also have a county-wide management plan.

Chapter 161, Florida Statutes also regulates construction of dune walkovers and signage seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line and establishes policy on vehicular use on the dune and beach. Florida utilizes the following actions to minimize the environmental impacts of coastal access:

  • Prohibits access across dunes
  • Utilizes designated accessways
  • Restricts driving/ORV use
  • Use of educational signage
  • Protects nesting areas

Although it's a bit dated, the report Public Access to the Florida Coast: 1995 Issues provides a good summary of beach access issues in Florida.

The report's recommendations are:

  1. Continued acquisition of coastal access properties, as needed to meet demands. There appears to be a greater relative need in the counties of Dade, Broward, Manatee, Charlotte, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Duval and Santa Rosa.
  2. Local governments should conduct periodic inspections of access ways, especially walkways and narrow corridor access points, to be sure that they are open to the public and not concealed by vegetation or encroached upon by adjacent landowners.
  3. Development of a statewide, easily recognizable, standard sign to be placed so that it can be read from the landward side and adjacent roads. Perhaps, if such signs were made available with state monies (prison labor?) and distributed to counties at a low cost, existing county road sign crews could install them over time. The emplacement of such signs would increase by at least 30% the number of public access points that non-locals might utilize that they are unaware of at this time. The use of installation bolts that are not easily removed by locals who do not wish non-locals to use "their" beach is strongly recommended. Perhaps, recommend stronger fines for the vandalism or removal of such signs.
  4. Be sure that disaster recovery funds include the restoration of dune walkovers and public accessways to beaches that have been storm damaged.
  5. Federal or state programs should be reformatted to provide incentives, funding and support for local governments to provide increased parking near public access points. Modify proposed policy guideline replacements of Rule 62B-36, Florida Administrative Code, (Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, DEP) to strengthen the requirement for the provision of public parking.
  6. Initiate a matching grant program to assist coastal parks to replace or modernize support facilities such as water fountains, showers, parking, worn or closed restrooms and lifeguard staffing.
  7. Educate smaller cities that are attempting to restrict beach use to city residents only that such restrictions are probably illegal and are jeopardizing the availability of state/federal monies for beach renourishment.
  8. Have the Florida legislature pass a statute requiring local governments to notify the state of any proposed closure or sales to private interests of existing public access points. Require a period of time providing opportunity for the stare to acquire the parcel before it is privatized. Also, require local government to alert its own citizens more effectively of such proposed actions.
  9. Institute stronger controls on personal watercrafts. Recommend training class for those ticketed for illegal operation.
  10. Conduct an inventory of parking capacities and bed capacities of the hotel/motel industry on the coast, by county, to assess the amount of "quasi-public" access provided by commercial businesses.
  11. Enforce the local implementation of Coastal Management Element of the Growth Management Act in planning and management documents, especially as it pertains to the provision of public access and parking associated with public access. 9J-5.012(3)(c)10.
  12. Support and provide incentives for local governments to write and enact Anchorage Management Plans for their jurisdictions.

The Division of State Lands acquires and disposes of lands as directed by the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund. The division administers and maintains the records of all lands held by the Board of Trustees; administers and maintains the geodetic survey requirements for the State of Florida; sets boundary lines for lands owned by the Board of Trustees; identifies and sets ordinary and mean high water boundaries for purposes of sovereignty and land title; administers and disposes of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) properties; and controls aquatic and invasive/exotic plant species on public lands and water bodies.

The Division of State Lands provides oversight for approximately 11 million acres of state lands, including more than 7,000 lakes and 4,510 islands of 10 acres or more in size. The division provides upland leases for state parks, forests, wildlife management areas, historic sites, educational facilities, vegetable farming, and mineral, oil, and gas exploration.

An article Florida Beach Access: Nothing But Wet Sand? by S. Brent Spain was published in the Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law in 1999. The article concludes:

"In a state such as Florida, which is a favorite tourist destination known for its beautiful beaches, the issue of adequate public beach access should be a priority. Few, if any, of the state's tourists are probably aware that the majority of Florida beaches are privately owned. One can easily imagine the surprise and shock of unsuspecting visitors to Florida who are threatened with arrest for trespassing because the beach they are enjoying is private property. Indeed, the frequency of such incidents is likely to increase, absent adequate protective measures, as tourists and coastal residents place more and more pressure upon Florida's coastal resources. Florida and its residents should not, and cannot afford to, "bite the hand that feeds," so to speak. In light of the State Legislature's failure to adequately protect public beach access, local governments should adopt ordinances protecting the public's long-standing customary use of the dry sand areas of their beaches. Without such measures, the Florida public may very well be left with nothing but wet sand."

Site Inventory

23% of the shoreline in Florida is publicly owned, according to Pogue P. and Lee V., 1999, "Providing Public Access to the Shore: The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs," Coastal Management 27:219-237.

This same document identifies 1,692 public access sites. This corresponds to about one public access site for every 5 miles of shoreline.

The 2010 FACT report states that, since 2000, beach access points located along the Gulf of Mexico increased by 163 beach access points for a total of 834 while the access points on the Atlantic increased by 287 for a total of 1,308 access points. The total number of access points during this period increased from 1,692 to 2,142 showing a 26.6 percent change. The 2000 and 2010 FACT reports state that 33% of Florida’s 825 miles of sandy coastline are in public ownership, with 274 linear miles of accessible beach.

Because Florida has lacked a current and coordinated coastal access guide, the Florida Coastal Management Program recently updated the Beach Access Guide it published in 1985. The project included entering publicly-owned beach access sites currently on large photo maps into a county-level Geographic Information System (GIS) map of Florida’s Atlantic, Key and Gulf Coasts. Site specific information is also included. The guide increases the public’s awareness of Florida’s coastal access opportunities. The first phase of the online Beach Access Guide was launched in February 2012. This phase includes data for the panhandle region, encompassing 13 Gulf Coast counties spanning from Escambia to Citrus. The Online Beach Access Guide now includes public beach access points in coastal counties throughout the state. The guide also provides directions, a list of amenities at each access point and a list of state parks, paddling trails, points of interest and a county overview. Information about Florida’s Atlantic Coast and Southwest Florida was added to the website in May 2012. There are more than 2,000 public coastal access sites included in the Florida Coastal Access Guide.

Finding beach access became even easier with the development of a free Explorer for ArcGIS mobile application. This app is available for download in the Apple App Store and Google Play. Once the Explorer for ArcGIS app is downloaded, users can search for “Florida Beach Access Guide” and have the option to save it to their favorites for ease of use. The app allows users to search for a specific beach, city or address, zoom to their current location and see accesses nearby. Users can also tap any access point and press the information icon for driving directions and a street view of the access. The Florida Coastal Access Guide was showcased at the Gulf of Mexico Alliance’s (GOMA) Tools Café, which took place during the GOMA 2016 All Hands Meeting in Baton Rouge, LA. The GOMA Tools Café was an interactive experience where participants learned how the Florida Coastal Access Guide tool works and had an opportunity to ask questions or walk through a demonstration of tool functionality.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) State Parks Website is located at: You can search for parks by name, region, city, activity - e.g., surfing (newly listed) - and proceed down to park sites with detailed descriptions of amenities, history and attractions, photos, directions, etc. The search under surfing yields seven beach state parks.

Visit Florida, the state's tourism and marketing arm, began a four-month journey in July 2013 to capture 360-degree images of the state's beaches. These photos will be integrated into Google Maps and will be available to anyone around the world with Internet access. Two-person Visit Florida teams were trained by Google Map experts to capture the images. The teams will walk about 50 miles of beach each week with a backpack that has a camera system on top. The camera has 15 lenses, angled in different directions, so it can capture a complete picture of a location. The images are then stitched together into a 360-degree panoramic photo. Officials say the images will be viewable on Google Maps in 2014.

In some locations the number of beach access sites is adequate, but their use is severely limited by a lack of nearby parking spots. An example of this is in Ponte Vedra in St. John's County, where Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit in 2004 over blocked beach access points. The suit sought a judgment that the county was "obstructing and preventing beach access in Ponte Vedra." The county sent out two letters to more than 300 oceanfront property owners instructing them to remove by December 15, 2005 any man-made objects such as fences and any vegetation such as shrubs and bushes, that create an obstacle to public beach access. In March 2006, the Seventh Circuit Court handed down a favorable decision. The judge ruled that private landowners cannot place obstructions such as plants or walls within the access points and that the county had six months to remove the obstructions. Four years later (February 2010), five of the 14 beach access paths leading from Ponte Vedra Boulevard to the ocean were still impassible or unidentifiable to the public. A map the county posted on its Website in December 2009 shows only nine beach access paths in the one-mile section of Ponte Vedra Boulevard that Circuit Judge Michael Traynor ruled on in his March 2006 order. See maps.

Beach access in St. Johns County is apparently beginning to improve, however. An article by Peter Guinta in the St. Augustine Record on August 12, 2005 indicated that St. Johns County is planning improvements to 32 undeveloped footpaths and will create another 30 access points that -- at present -- exist only as easements. These improvements are estimated to cost about $1 million, half of which will come from federal grants.

The state owns 1,700 properties along the coastline, comprising 343 miles of the state's shoreline. This publicly owned land comprises 43% of the sandy beaches in Florida. Further breaking down the 43% of sandy beaches that are publicly owned, 272 of the 825 miles of sandy coastline, or 30%, are publicly owned and accessible to the public, which represents 33% of the coastline. Another 4.4% of beaches are publicly owned and accessible only by boat, while 4.9% are publicly owned but closed to the public for military reasons.

The state does compile coastal access data, but data is only compiled when the state is considering cost sharing for an eligible local government's beach management project. Data are stored by the Beach and Ecosystem Management Section, Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The data are not published, nor are they available online. The state does not track changes in the quantity or quality of coastal access. [1]

Except for the information sources referenced above, information regarding the percentage of coastal land that is publicly owned, the percentage of private beaches that are publicly accessible and the typical distance between coastal access points is typically kept at the county or local level.[2]

FCMP funded the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) to develop GIS and Mapping products to cover freshwater, marine and terrestrial areas within the state.

Florida's Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) was published in 2000. This plan serves as an information resource and establishes a framework and planning process to guide various recreation providers toward the goal of an integrated, sustainable outdoor recreation lands system. It identifies state and national outdoor recreation trends and initiatives, and examines existing outdoor recreation programs. It analyzes outdoor recreation facility and resource needs, and establishes goals and strategies to guide a statewide planning process. There is also now a 2008 SCORP. "Saltwater beach activities" were the most popular form of resource-based recreation in Florida for both residents and tourists. The report states:

Statewide, more than 139 miles of beach will be required by 2020 if current levels of service are to be maintained. Unfortunately, providing this amount of additional beach resources will not be possible as the amount of remaining undeveloped beaches dwindles to zero. Increasing public access to the state’s existing saltwater beaches will be required to accommodate future demands.

The New York Times published an article on beach access issues in Florida on January 21, 2005 witten by Jane Costello which focused on access battles at Ponte Vedra Beach in St. John's County. Below are excerpts from that article.

For some, Ponte Vedra Boulevard is the road to paradise. Multimillion-dollar mansions and million-dollar teardowns line the narrow boulevard, which runs parallel to an expansive stretch of white-sand beach on Florida's northeast coast just below Jacksonville. The mansions are large and close together, and as you drive along, the Atlantic Ocean is visible only by peeking through hedges or catching a glimpse of blue through spotless picture windows.

Access to that beach, or lack of it, is what also makes the boulevard in the resort town of Ponte Vedra Beach a battleground of sorts. Over the last two decades, public access to Florida's 1,200 miles of coastline has diminished drastically. Now, as in other coastal states around the country, lines are being drawn in the sand between residents demanding better beach access and oceanfront property owners determined to keep the public off their private land. Ponte Vedra Boulevard is one of those lines.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, at least 60 percent of beaches in the state are private and offer little or no access to the public, enabling both developers and homeowners to claim those beaches as their own. But many contend that there is no such thing as a private beach: as in other states, the constitution of Florida recognizes that the beach is publicly owned up to the high-tide mark. In addition, Florida law requires the state to ensure "the public's right to reasonable access to beaches," and various court rulings have affirmed that principle.

Nevertheless, over the last 20 years local governments in Florida have routinely ceded access points to developers. Along both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, developers have been granted the right to stake claim on dry sand and build waterfront communities, which then bring in hefty tax revenues to local jurisdictions.

"The question is, what is a beach?" said Graham Ginsburg, a resident of Naples on Florida's gulf coast and a beach access advocate who is also a member of the Collier County Coastal Advisory Committee. "You can say you own a piece of sand, but sand doesn't constitute a beach until it meets the ocean. And when it does, that beach is mine."

For the last two years, this dispute has played itself out in Ponte Vedra Beach. Referred to by some as Jacksonville's Malibu, Ponte Vedra is a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic that is home to approximately 25,000 residents, along with the Association of Tennis Players and the Professional Golfer's Association.

The pristine sandy beach is the third jewel in Ponte Vedra's crown. Until recently, one of the best-kept secrets in town was the existence of 14 public beach access points along Ponte Vedra Boulevard, half of them unmarked and none actively maintained by St. John's County. There is no parking on the seven-mile-long, two-lane thoroughfare, nor are there bicycle racks, boardwalks or public toilets, except at Mickler's Landing, the 15th and very visible public access point, in a county park at the south end of the road.

"You'd be hard pressed to find any of the access points," said Vince Di Viesti, a Ponte Vedra resident who is the founder of a new advocacy group, the Florida Beach Access and Awareness Coalition. "There aren't signs for most of them, and the signs that do exist are either facing the wrong way or point to the road, not the beach. It's basically a private beach for five or six miles, which is great for people who live on the beach but bad for everybody else."

Those who live on or near the boulevard say that the area was never designed to accommodate a large number of beachgoers. But the growth of the community over the last 30 years, as well as others nearby, has residents thinking about how best to preserve their piece of paradise.

"When I moved here in 1972, this was a sleepy bedroom community of Jacksonville," said Carl Bloesing, a former president of the Ponte Vedra Community Association, whose home is on the lagoon that runs parallel to the ocean and along the boulevard. "Now Ponte Vedra is just about built out. But west of us, the county is planning huge, huge developments. When it comes time, those people will look for the closest beach, which would be ours."

Mr. Bloesing said that although most residents don't object to the county's opening up existing beach access points, they don't want accommodations made for additional parking. In 2003, residents successfully petitioned the county to vacate a 34-foot-wide, 7,000-foot right of way on the boulevard that advocates for beach access wanted converted to parking.

The county argued that it never owned the land in the first place and claimed rights only for underground utility use. That action left 76 homeowners free to claim a proportional piece of the land as part of their property, which in turn prompted a lawsuit filed by the Jacksonville chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization.

Among other charges, the lawsuit claimed the move violated county law requiring that all residents have adequate access to the beaches. The case was dismissed in December, to the relief of Ponte Vedra homeowners who envisioned an influx of inland day-trippers on warm, sunny days.

"This is a hot-button issue that pits constituents against each other," said Bruce Maguire, a St. John's County commissioner. According to Mr. McGuire, the county has added 50,000 residents in the last five years, and an additional 15,000-acre development is expected to provide housing for another 30,000. The county has 42 miles of beach and a total of 170 access points, but 115 of them are closed. "Historically, there was never a need to open them," he said. "But with all this growth, we have to figure out how to do it."

Beach access is a growing concern throughout Florida. North of Ponte Vedra, the town of Fernandina Beach is in a battle over a private beach boardwalk built by a condominium association. The town maintains the boardwalk should be open to the public and has closed it until the dispute is settled. On the gulf coast, residents find themselves fighting for space on the few beaches still accessible to the public. Mr. Ginsburg, the Naples beach-access advocate, said that the problem began as a result of the building boom in the area in 2000. "We had plenty of access up until that point," he said. "Now it's even hard to find a parking space during the week. And on the weekends, the lots are filled by 8 or 9 in the morning."

Perhaps the biggest example, in terms of the sheer amount of beachfront involved, is in the Florida panhandle. There, in 2002, the state gave permission to develop 27 miles of coastline to the St. Joe Company, Florida's largest private landowner and developer. In exchange, the company provided two public beach-access points.

"What you're seeing is a hemorrhaging of access across the country," said Scott Shine of the Jacksonville chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. "People like to blame the developers, but in reality, it's more a question of local governments having abdicated their responsibilities."

As St. John's County wrestles with the decision of which access points to open and how to pay for their upkeep, the pressure to open up more coastline to more people continues. Earlier this month, Mr. Di Viesti's group sponsored a march from Route A1A down to Ponte Vedra Boulevard to bring attention to the issue at large, as well as to the 14 access points that he said needed to be made more accessible.

"We might upset some people who live there, but that's their problem," Mr. Di Viesti said. "I don't mind upsetting people if it's going to help open up the beach to the rest of us."

In February 2006, the Collier County Environmental Advisory Council voted 9-0 to recommend to the county commissioners that they deny a permit for private beach club which would consist of a 2,925-square-foot pavilion with boat shuttle access and a boardwalk to the beach on Keewaydin Island. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Collier County Audubon Society and many island homeowners and lot owners oppose the project, which would potentially impact the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

In December 2007 a potential beach access issue developed at Hobe Sound Beach in Jupiter Island when the Town Commission passed an ordinance closing the county-owned beach from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise. The ordinance was suspended for three months in January 2008 after County Commissioner Lee Weberman called for the town to roll back the new rules. The town's Public Safety Department will work with the Martin County Sheriff's Office to evaluate problems at the beach and determine whether the time restrictions are necessary.

A beach access controversy is brewing at Huguenot Memorial Park in Jacksonville, the only place in the city where vehicles are allowed on the beach. The Jacksonville Recreation and Community Services Department is preparing a plan to control use of the park to protect migrating birds and wildlife habitat. Their first proposed plan would have limited daily access to 700 vehicles. Negative reaction to that plan caused the city to revise the limit to 1,500 vehicles a day. A large number of beachgoers oppose any limits on vehicles.

Click here to see a slide show of beach access problems in Florida and here to learn more about what Surfrider chapters in Florida are doing to improve beach access.

Beach Attendance Records

Direct information on beach attendance was not readily available. The state does not maintain beach attendance records. There are some estimates of beach attendance in the Economic Evaluation of Beaches section below.

The 2010 FACT report stated:

The annual attendance at State Parks increased from 18.1 million to 20.4 million people annually between 2001 and 2010, for a total of more than 190 million visitors over ten years. District 4, Southwest Florida, grew in park attendance (33%) more than any other district. Attendance within District 4 increased from 4.5 million to 6 million annually between 2001 and 2010, for a total District attendance of 59 million visitors over nine years. Greenways and Trails reported steadily increasing numbers of visitors from 2002 to more than 4.5 million in 2010. The total number of visitors exceeded 21 million for the nine year period. The Aquatic Preserves reported over 3 million visitors over the period 2001 to 2010. The majority of visits to the Preserves occurred since 2004. Reported attendance in the Aquatic Preserves was over 650,000 in 2010. The increase in annual visits between 2002 and 2010 exceeded 800% for the Aquatic Preserves and 1400% for Greenways and Trails.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

Drawing millions of visitors each year, Florida's clear waters, world-class beaches and coral reefs support a $53 billion tourism industry, a $14 billion marine industry and a fishing industry that injects more than $6 billion a year to Florida' communities.

The 2010 FACT report states:

The primary resource-based recreation activity in Florida is visiting the beach. The economic impact of visits to beaches by citizens and tourists alike is far-reaching. In 2000, beach visits represented $41 billion in total spending (equivalent to 8.7% of the Gross State Product in that year and 80% of all state tourism spending). In 2008, the number of out-of-state (domestic) and international visitors was 84.2 million (Visit Florida FY09 Annual Report). These tourists infused $65.2 billion into the Florida economy. Generally, more than one third of non-Floridian tourists are vacationing at beaches. In 2008, it is estimated that at least 23 million out-of-state visitors were at Florida beaches on average 5 days, and another 5.5 million international visitors for an average of 14 days. This equates to 192 million visitor beach days. In the Florida Coastal Issues 2009 Survey over 89% of Florida’s 18.5 million residents visit the beach at least once per year with many (46%) making repeated trips compounding the number by monthly, weekly, or daily frequencies, and exceeding 500 million resident visit or days annually (as a conservative estimate).

Outdoor recreation generates nearly 330,000 jobs and $10.7 billion in wages in Florida, according to a study released in March 2013 by the Outdoor Industry Association. At least 51 percent of Florida residents participate in outdoor recreation each year -- not including, fishing, hunting or wildlife viewing, according to the study.

Economics of Florida's Beaches: The Impact of Beach Restoration (June 2003) provides project-specific and summaries by region of cost information on beach fill projects in Florida since about 1992. Also included in the report are the following factoids related to the economic contribution of beaches to Florida's economy:

  • The economic impact of Florida’s beach visitors in 2000 included 442,000 jobs and over $700 million in sales tax directly paid by Florida beach tourists.
  • Of the 71 million annual tourists who visit Florida, over 23 million reported going to Florida beaches as a primary vacation activity during their stay.
  • Direct spending by Florida’s beach visitors in 2000 was estimated at $21.9 billion.
  • Indirect spending by Florida’s beach visitors in 2000 was estimated at $19.7 billion.
  • Total spending by Florida’s beach visitors in 2000 was estimated at $41.6 billion.
  • Over $8 billion in payroll results from additional spending related to the state’s beaches.
  • Over $25 billion, or approximately 25% of the value of Florida’s coastal real estate, can be attributed to beaches.

Economics of Florida's Beaches Phase II - The Economics of Beach Tourism in Florida is a two-page brochure that provides additional beach economic data, including:

  • Florida beach regions were visited by 50.5 million tourists in 2003
  • Beach tourist spending in Florida is $19.3 billion per year
  • The total economic contribution of all beach regions to the Florida economy is $38.2 billion per year.

A June 2006 report is Phase I, Florida’s Ocean and Coastal Economies Report by Judith Kildrow of California State University, Monterey Bay. The report's key findings include:

Ocean Economy

  • In 2003, Florida’s direct Ocean Economy (GSP) was an estimated $13 billion ranking second in the nation behind California. Florida’s total Ocean Economy that same year (including multipliers) was an estimated $23.2 billion.
  • The total Florida Ocean Economy (with multipliers) contributed 3.2% of Florida employment and 4.5% of Florida GSP in 2003.
  • Employment forecasts for the Ocean Economy Project a 73% growth with more than 268,000 new jobs by 2015.
  • The Tourism & Recreation sector GSP was the fastest growing in the Ocean Economy, far surpassing the others with 90% growth between 1990 and 2003. The Marine Transportation Sector GSP grew 82% during the period 1990-2003. The other four sectors had either minimal growth or negative growth during that period.

Coastal Economy

  • In 2003, Florida’s Coastal Economy (shoreline counties) contributed an estimated $402 billion, or 77% of the state’s total economy.
  • Florida contributed 9.7% of the national Coastal Economy GSP in 2003, with only 4.6% of the national coastal county land area.
  • Economic indicators appear to be better indicators of coastal change than population. Between 1990 and 2003, Florida’s shoreline county economy grew at a faster rate than population. Wages grew at 49% and GSP grew at 65%, while population grew at 31%.
  • During the period 1990-2003, Florida’s shoreline county/Coastal Economy grew at a faster rate than the Coastal Economy of California, the Gulf States combined and the nation: at 31% employment growth, 48% for wages, and 63% for GSP.
  • In 2003, shoreline counties contributed more than 70% of all employment, population and housing in the state with only 56% of land area.

Population and Housing

  • 77% of Florida’s population lives in coastal counties, with 46% living on the Atlantic and 31% on the Gulf coast. The remaining population lives inland.
  • Population density in shoreline counties, however, measured at approximately 444 people per square mile, while the density inland was an estimated 170 people per square mile, the differences partially due to large cities along the coast.
  • Inland counties, with smaller population levels, have grown faster than shoreline counties with population and housing growth at approximately 42% during the period 1990-2004.
  • Florida ranks third among the coastal states for shoreline county population and 13th for shoreline county population density.

Non-Market Economic Values for Coastal Recreational Resources

  • Beach values for the State of Florida ranged from $3.5 billion to $17.7 billion in 2000, using 2005 dollars.
  • Florida ranks number one among the nation’s destinations for Americans that swim, fish, dive and otherwise enjoy the state’s many beaches, coastal wetlands, and shores. More than 22 million people visited the Florida coasts in 2000.
  • The Non-Market value of recreational fishing along Florida’s Gulf coast ranged between just under $3.4 billion to $5.6 billion annually in 2000, using 2005 dollars.

The FCMP website also provides links to three other important Websites that discuss this subject from both a state and a national perspective.

  • The first of these is the Ecosystem Valuation Website, which describes how economists value the beneficial ways that ecosystems affect people. The Website is designed for non-economists who need answers to questions about the benefits of ecosystem conservation, preservation, and restoration. It provides a clear, non-technical explanation of ecosystem valuation concepts, methods, and applications.
  • The second is the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP), which provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation Website in September 2008. Still the largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the Website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. The National Ocean Economics Program has now released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The NOEP Website had this note in mid-2010: "The NOEP is now being hosted by the Monterey Institute of International Studies, with generous funding also provided by the University of Southern California Sea Grant Program. We are currently seeking additional funding to continue NOEP's mission beyond 2010, as well as expand it in new directions and integrate the NOEP with the Monterey Institute’s plans for a greater academic focus on International Marine Policy."
  • Finally, Florida Coastal Environmental Resources: A Guide to Economic Valuation and Impact Analysis is published by Florida Sea Grant and demonstrates to coastal managers and planners the application of environmental economics to actual case studies in Florida.

A comprehensive new analysis of business generated by Florida's coral reefs warns that more than 70,000 jobs and more than $5.5 billion in economic activity in the state are in grave jeopardy from climate change. Environmental Defense Fund commissioned the report, Corals and Climate Change: Florida's Natural Treasures at Risk. The lead authors are Terry Gibson and Harold Wanlass.

In 2003, the Gulf of Mexico’s ocean economy employed more than 562,000 people, paid wages of more than $13.2 billion, and contributed over $32 billion to the region’s gross state product.[3] Tourism and recreation comprised 71 percent of the employment in the Gulf region’s 2003 ocean economy.[4]

The above statistics are from a report by NRDC that summarizes the results of several surveys and evaluations that attempt to quantify the positive economic impact of beach and ocean recreation, recreational and commercial fishing, and ecosystems value from the Gulf of Mexico's ocean resources.

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

The 2010 FACT report states "the fixed supply of Florida’s beaches and other coastal resources are experiencing increasing demands from the growth in population and tourists."

The Florida Coastal Issues 2009 Survey (Appendix A of the FACT report) included a question concerning the survey participant’s perceived measure of whether the supply of coastal access points is adequate. These data are compared to results from a similar 1999 survey reported in the FACT 2000 publication. The percentage of respondents who answered yes to the question concerning coastal access is an indicator of the adequacy of the level of facilities, information and signage provided for the public to enjoy activities on the beach and along the coast of Florida. Eighty-four percent of respondents claimed to have adequate access to the coast for recreation in 2009. This represents a 5% decrease from the results of 1999. Those residents who felt they did not have adequate access to the coast for recreation sited more access points (i.e., lack of parking areas, piers, or boardwalks) as the primary reasons. Respondents who live further away from the coast as well as respondents between the ages of 35 and 54 (40%) indicated that more web-based information and maps would encourage them to visit the coast more often.

The 2008 SCORP states:

"Statewide, more than 139 miles of beach will be required by 2020 if current levels of service are to be maintained. Unfortunately, providing this amount of additional beach resources will not be possible as the amount of remaining undeveloped beaches dwindles to zero. Increasing public access to the state’s existing saltwater beaches will be required to accommodate future demands."

Public Education Program

The Florida Coastal Management Program seeks to improve coastal access through a variety of activities which provide information to the public and support developing, maintaining, and enhancing coastal access. By means of an assortment of education and outreach material, FCMP assists in making the public aware of existing access opportunities. FCMP has updated its inventory of sandy beach access points and has recently produced an online access guide. The FCMP also provides Public Access Signs, Beach Warning Flag Signs, Beach Warning Flag Sets and Rip Current Awareness Signs to state and local governments or other governmental entities that provide public access to and use of the coast. Furthermore, through competitive grant programs, the FCMP makes funds available for projects and activities that protect and enhance coastal resources, stewardship, public access, water quality and coastal communities. Grant projects support a variety of efforts aimed at increasing public access to the coast.

Contact Info

Roxane Dow
Environmental Specialist III
Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems
Division of Water Resource Management
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Phone: (850) 922-7852


  1. Roxane Dow, DEP. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, December 2003.
  2. Roxane Dow, DEP. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, December 2003.
  3. Colgan, Charles. 2008. “The Ocean Economy of the Gulf of Mexico in National Perspective” in The Changing Coastal and Ocean Economics of the Gulf of Mexico. Edited by Judith Kildow, Charles Colgan, and Linwood Pendleton, University of Texas Press. (pp. 2, 3). Please note that this analysis relied on 2003 data from the National Ocean Economics Program ( The author estimated the ocean economy of Florida by using only those counties adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, from Monroe County north; Florida counties on the Atlantic coast were excluded.
  4. Colgan, Charles. 2008. “The Ocean Economy of the Gulf of Mexico in National Perspective” in The Changing Coastal and Ocean Economics of the Gulf of Mexico. Edited by Judith Kildow, Charles Colgan, and Linwood Pendleton, University of Texas Press. (pp. 2, 3). Please note that this analysis relied on 2003 data from the National Ocean Economics Program ( The author estimated the ocean economy of Florida by using only those counties adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, from Monroe County north; Florida counties on the Atlantic coast were excluded.

State of the Beach Report: Florida
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