State of the Beach/State Reports/GA

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Georgia’s major coastal issues include pollution, a rapidly growing coastal population, and erosion on the state’s developed barrier islands. Commercial forestry, the pulp and paper industry, and military bases are major economic forces for the state and depend on a healthy coast. Beach access policies are good and information is fair. Georgia has progressive policies regarding coastal hazard avoidance, shoreline structures, and beach ecology.

Georgia Ratings


(+) State agencies encourage non-structural approaches to shoreline stabilization and require that no reasonable or viable alternative exists before permitting construction or shoreline stabilization structures.

(+) There is a statewide development setback of at least 50 feet from coastal marshland, protecting marshland from some of the negative impacts of coastal construction.

(+) The Nature Conservancy raised $25.9 million over a period of three years for projects including the protection of more than 23,000 acres around the Altamaha and the Georgia coast and the installation of living shorelines on Sapelo and Little St. Simons islands. The latter project looked at new ways to shield Georgia’s coast from storms and erosion while boosting a dwindling oyster population. Collaborating with state and federal government agencies as well as local volunteers, the project evaluated the use of bagged oyster shells and native plants rather than concrete and other hardened structures to protect shorelines.

(+) The Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Georgia Sea Grant, and the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources have teamed up to develop a plan for the city of Tybee Island to address rising sea levels. The two-year grant-funded project will prioritize and address the barrier island’s vulnerabilities in order to protect resources and counteract increased flooding — both permanent and as a result of storm surges. Potential solutions include sea walls, elevated infrastructure, beach re-nourishment, property buy-outs and new zoning ordinances that restrict development.

(+) In October 2009 the Governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia announced an agreement to work together to better manage and protect ocean and coastal resources, ensure regional economic sustainability and respond to disasters such as hurricanes. The South Atlantic Alliance will leverage resources from each state to protect and maintain healthy coastal ecosystems, keep waterfronts working, enhance clean ocean and coastal waters and help make communities more resilient after they’ve been struck by natural disasters.

(+) The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has proposed rules that give its Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee the authority to enforce water management, limitations on impervious surfaces and increased buffer restrictions for certain developments along the coast.

(+) Georgia's Green Growth Guidelines help local governments, developers, engineers and land planners, landscape architects and natural resource managers compare the environmental, social and economic benefits of using sustainable development strategies with conventional development approaches.

(+) Tybee Island received a "Water First" award from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Tybee has a city ordinance that requires pervious pavement on driveways to reduce storm water runoff. Tybee also has worked with the city's hotels to voluntarily reduce water usage and their tiered water rate system promotes conservation.

(+) Coastal Georgia is home to about one-third of the viable salt marsh left on the Atlantic coast and where the public owns 10 of the 18 major islands.

(+) The Coastal Resources Division contributes approximately 60% of Georgia’s CZMA allocation as “Coastal Incentive Grants” to allow regional and local coastal issues to be defined and addressed at the grass-roots level.

(+) Unlike many other areas of the East Coast, approximately two-thirds of Georgia's islands are parks, refuges, or preserves.

(+) All of the beaches in Georgia belong to the citizens of Georgia and are open to the public to the ordinary high water mark.

(+) It is a goal of the Coastal Management Program to “Develop and institute a comprehensive erosion policy that identifies critical erosion areas, evaluates the long-term costs and benefits of erosion control techniques, seeks to minimize the effects on natural systems (both biological and physical), and avoids damage to life and property.”

(-) Georgia has dismissed sea level rise as "not an immediate natural hazard" despite nearly 40% of Georgia's coast being vulnerable to sea level rise and even more of the coast vulnerable to increased coastal hazards due to climate change.

(-) SB 510, introduced by State Senator Chip Pearson, would have created exemptions and waivers for landowners seeking to encroach on stream buffers and would allow septic tanks in buffer zones. It would also make it difficult for local governments to expand stream buffers. Fortunately, the 25-foot buffer was upheld in a ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals in 2014.

(-) Georgia does not enforce coastal setbacks along the shoreline.

(-) The population of coastal Georgia is growing at approximately 20% per decade. Along with this increased population growth comes the pressure to develop environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, floodplains, and barrier islands.

(-) Very little erosion data, beach fill project information or shoreline structure inventory are accessible on the DNR website.

(-) Oconee County has not implemented its state-required stormwater improvement plan (completed in August 2004) because they don't have ordinances to restrict residents from dumping dirt, yard debris, and chemical pollutants into storm drains.

(-) The Georgia Board of Natural Resources voted to treat wastewater to meet "the highest statutory and regulatory requirements" rather than the former requirement to treat wastewater to the level that is "highest and best practicable under existing technology."


  • Ban on Bag Bans Defeated The Georgia legislature considered a bill that would have prevented local municipalities from being able to create ordinances to regulate containers such as bottles, bags, and food service wares at the local level. The bill was defeated.
  • Save the Spit on Sea Island Developers tried to develop a fragile, eroding part of the south tip of Sea Island called the Spit. The Georgia Chapter worked to prevent the issuance of building permits on this ecologically sensitive and important parcel of land on the Georgia Coast. This campaign culminated in a lawsuit settlement that preserved 90% of the sea island spit area, including over 80 acres in a land conservation easement and funding for a five-year study on the coastal erosion and sand supply system in this part of coastal Georgia. More details.
  • Restored Stand Up Paddle Boarding Access at Stone Mountain Park In August 2010, Stone Mountain Memorial Association (SMMA) enacted a ban on stand up paddle boards at the 14 square mile Stone Mountain Park Lake. Surfrider Foundation's Georgia Chapter approved a “Stand Up For Stone Mountain Lake” campaign and took immediate steps to have the ban lifted. Steve Combs and Greg McMenamy, both attorneys and long-time Surfrider members, met with the CEO and Chief of Police of SMMA. During the meeting, the Atlanta Chapter representatives were able to address SMMA’s concerns regarding safety, impact to the park, and uncertainties regarding water quality. SMMA lifted the ban and also invited the Atlanta Chapter to participate in clean up activities at the park. The success of this campaign was based in large part on Surfrider’s long history of defending public access rights and having the resources to take quick action when needed. More info.
  • Jekyll Island Protected Surfrider Foundation’s Georgia Chapter won a victory in their efforts to help protect Jekyll Island State Park from development. Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) Board Chairman Ben Porter announced via a letter to Representative Jerry Keen that the Authority will revise the beachfront component of its plan to redevelop Jekyll Island State Park. The announcement followed a hotly contested legislative struggle in which a series of attempts to introduce protective Jekyll legislation were killed in committee despite thousands of calls from concerned Georgia citizens to legislators on both sides of the aisle. The beachfront north of the Convention Center, which had been slated for commercial development, will ultimately become a public park with improved public access and beach parking, and an Environmental Conservation Center. This decision marks at least a partial victory for the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island (IPJI) and for other groups defending the general public's right to direct access and an unobstructed view of Jekyll’s most popular beach. Thanks to the input of Georgia citizens from around the state speaking through leading Jekyll advocates Senator Jeff Chapman, Representative Debbie Buckner, and Representative Dubose Porter, the voice of the people has emerged as the single most powerful entity in the ongoing discussion of the planned revitalization of Jekyll Island State Park.

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

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