State of the Beach/State Reports/GA/Beach Access

From Beachapedia

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

Georgia Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access67
Water Quality66
Beach Erosion4-
Erosion Response-4
Beach Fill4-
Shoreline Structures4 6
Beach Ecology3-
Surfing Areas35
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


The Protection of Tidewaters Act O.C.G.A. 52-1-1 establishes the State of Georgia as the owner of the beds of all tidewaters within the State, except where title by a private party can be traced to a valid British Crown or State land grant. The Act provides the Department of Natural Resources the authority to remove those "structures" that are capable of habitation, or incapable of or not used for transportation. Permits for such structures may not extend past June 30, 1997. The Act provides procedures for removal, sale, or disposition of such structures. (This is similar to the Right of Passage Act, except that it is specific to tidewaters rather than all waters of Georgia.)

The Right of Passage Act O.C.G.A. 52-1-30 declares the right of use of all navigable waterways of the state by all citizens of Georgia. The Act establishes the mechanism to remove "structures" that are capable of being used as a place of habitation, are not used as or are not capable of use as a means of transportation, and do not have a permit under the Act. Permits shall not be issued for a term ending after June 30, 1997. The Right of Passage Act is implemented by the Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. (This is similar to the Protection of Tidewaters Act, except that it is specific to all navigable waters rather than tidewaters.)

It is a goal of the Coastal Management Program to “Promote increased recreational opportunities in coastal areas and increased public access to tidal waters in a manner that protects coastal resource quality, public health, and public safety.”

Site Inventory

Unlike many other areas of the East Coast, approximately two-thirds of Georgia's islands are parks, refuges, or preserves. All of Georgia's beaches are located on the barrier islands, and most are ocean-facing. Georgia's 13 barrier islands comprise about 76,300 acres and include approximately 88 miles of beach. The largest island, Cumberland Island, has approximately 16.9 miles of beach on its 15,100 acres. Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Simons islands are also larger than 10,000 acres.

Of the 88 miles of beaches, approximately 19 miles have easy public access. All of the beaches in Georgia belong to the citizens of Georgia and are open to the public to the ordinary high water mark. Access to most of Georgia's beaches is difficult because they are located on islands not connected to the mainland by roads. While all of Georgia's beaches are accessible by boat, access is limited, for safety reasons, to non-motorized boats on Tybee, Sea, St. Simons, and Jekyll Islands. Motor vehicle traffic is prohibited on all of Georgia's beaches, except by permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

Where Can I Launch a Boat? gives you tips on boat launching, as well as directions and photos for boat launching facilities along the Northern Coast (Savannah, Tybee, Richmond Hill), the Central Coast (Hinesville, Eulonia, Midway, Darien), and the Southern Coast (Brunswick, St. Simons, Jekyll, Woodbine, Kingsland, St. Mary's).

The DNR/CRD Website provides numerous maps that include:

  • Shellfish Maps by County
  • Saltwater Fishing Maps by County
  • Sunken Vessel Mapping
  • Beach Maps

An island-by-island breakdown of the available access and restrictions on access (as well as a discussion on ways to increase coastal/beach access) is provided on pages 215 to 223 of the State of Georgia Coastal Management Program and Program Document, a 266-page report produced in 2003 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Management Program.

The DNR Coastal Resources Division Website provides beach access information via links to beaches and public access.

A Visitor's Guide to Accessing Georgia's Coastal Resources (118 pages, PDF) was completed by the University of Georgia Marine Extension utilizing NOAA funds through the State Coastal Management Program to provide an easy reference guidebook to direct locals and tourists alike to some of the coast’s inspiring viewsheds, cultural, and historic locations.

This travel website provides an interactive map of Georgia's Coast & Barrier Islands.

Additional access and general information for state parks can be found at

There is concern about maintaining direct beach access to Jekyll Island State Park (Georgia’s only coastal state park) if the access is blocked or parking is reduced by a $400 million oceanfront condominium and time-share community center proposed by Linger Longer Communities. State Senator Jeff Chapman has proposed a resolution that reads: "Therefore, Be It Resolved That, in view of the intent of Jekyll Island State Park’s founding legislation and Master Plan, the present oceanfront parking areas and beach access points be maintained for the benefit and convenience of the general public, with special consideration for the needs of children, the elderly, and the handicapped through the provision of family friendly facilities." For more info, see Save Jekyll Island.

Beach Attendance Records

Information on beach attendance in Georgia was not readily available.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

Information on the economic evaluation of beaches in Georgia was not readily available.

Overall state tourism contributes $15.4 billion to the state’s economy, generating 211,800 jobs. (NRDC, 2007)

The total impact from tourism in the Georgia coastal area was estimated at around $1.39 billion in 1993.

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 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. A long-range resource management plan is needed to continue an acceptable level of protection while providing for compatible economic development. Thoughtful resource management will ensure that future generations also have the opportunity to enjoy the Georgia coast.

Tourism continues to grow each year, and more people are choosing coastal Georgia as a place to retire. The coastal population continues to grow from tourism on Tybee Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island, and from military bases in Camden, Liberty, and Long counties (Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and Fort Stewart Army Base).

According to the 1990 Census, a substantial 23% increase from 1990 is predicted for coastal Georgia in the future. This increase continues a trend in population growth on the coast which has exceeded 200% since 1930 in some counties. Liberty County and Camden County have experienced a remarkable 547% and 376% increase in population respectively since 1930, due largely to the placement of military bases in those counties.

In 1994, 24,946 boats were registered in the six coastal counties. That figure attributes one boat to every fifteen residences. Given current rates of growth, an increase of 3,200 boats was expected in those coastal counties by the year 2000. There are now 28 public marinas and 36 public boat ramps in the coastal counties. In addition, there are 33 non-boating facilities such as piers and docks available for public use.

Public Education Program

The Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Website has an education and outreach page that contains a variety of beach and coastal information.

Georgia Sea Grant Website is a useful source of information on coastal public education and outreach efforts in Georgia.

Contact Info

Spud Woodward
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Coastal Resources Division
(912) 264-7218

State of the Beach Report: Georgia
Georgia 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