State of the Beach/State Reports/MA

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Although public information regarding coastal erosion and response to erosion and other coastal hazards is plentiful in Massachusetts, information (including inventories) of some erosion response projects such as beach fill is lacking. Erosion has increased in some areas because of existing shoreline structures, which interrupt sand transport. Working to increase coastal access should be a priority. The facts that about 75% of the coastline is privately owned and private ownership extends to the low tide line hamper efforts to improve public access. Massachusetts does a good job supplying the public information about coastal access points.

Massachusetts Ratings


(+) Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management (CZM) conducted robust climate change and sea level rise planning, producing a series of important documents including a Climate Change Adaptation Report, coastal infrastructure inventory, sea level rise and flooding maps, and a wealth of information that helps local communities implement adaptation plans. The Coastal Infrastructure Inventory and Assessment Project is particularly noteworthy, having comprehensively inventoried nearly all shoreline stabilization structures with analysis of vulnerability and a 20-year maintenance and repair program for these structures.

(+) Massachusetts has strong policies protecting natural landforms that provide storm damage prevention and flood control. These dunes, beaches, banks, and wetlands are well protected under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and are crucial for dealing with increased sea level rise and storm events as the climate changes.

(+) On Oct. 15, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency joined state and local dignitaries formally launching the Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program, which serves as a framework to promote a broad ecosystem approach to protect and restore the coastal watersheds of Southeast New England (coastal areas from Westerly, R.I., to Chatham, Mass., including all waters of Rhode Island, southern Cape Cod, Narragansett Bay, and Buzzards Bay). The program, consisting of government and non-government organizations, is currently working collaboratively and innovatively to maintain and improve water quality and habitat conditions within these coastal watersheds. In collaboration with a diverse array of stakeholders, the program will focus on developing and promoting innovations in restoration and protection practices, development of new, more efficient technologies, and application of new policies to these new approaches. A critical element of this program will be to prepare for climate change impacts and highlight the need to build resilience into all decision-making. More info.

(+) On June 27, 2014 Governor Deval Patrick announced the approval of Massachusetts’s statewide No Discharge Area (NDA) designation. With this approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), commercial and recreational vessels are now prohibited from releasing sewage anywhere along the Massachusetts coast. NDAs protect water quality and aquatic life from pathogens, nutrients, and chemical products contained in discharged sewage—even boat waste that has been treated—and also reduce the risk of human illness, making it safer to swim, boat, fish, and eat shellfish from protected waters. NDAs can also help reduce the growth of harmful algae that occurs due to high nutrient levels in sewage discharge and protect shellfishing areas. This designation caps years of extensive work by CZM and coastal communities and their partners to develop NDA applications and ensure the necessary waste pumpout facilities are available for boaters to use. See the Governor Patrick press release; see the CZM No Discharge Areas website for information on the Massachusetts requirements; and see Pumpout Facilities for Boat Sewage Disposal in Coastal Massachusetts for pumpout locations.

(+) In June 2014 the Northeast Regional Planning Body announced the release of easy-to-use decision support tool containing thousands of interactive maps on the Northeast Data Portal, including some of water quality data for the northeastern states from Connecticut to Maine. Based on water quality data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, some maps display No Discharge Zones, impaired waters, and wastewater discharges. Also shown on the maps are boundaries of watersheds and subwatersheds in the region. To view the water quality maps, go here.

(+) In December 2013, CZM launched the StormSmart Properties website with fact sheets for coastal property owners on shoreline stabilization options that effectively reduce erosion and storm damage while minimizing impacts to shoreline systems. The six techniques covered in this first round of fact sheets are: artificial dunes and dune nourishment, controlling overland runoff to reduce coastal erosion, planting vegetation to reduce erosion and storm damage, bioengineering - coir rolls on coastal banks, bioengineering - natural fiber blankets on coastal banks, and sand fencing. In 2014, CZM will add additional fact sheets on topics such as repair/reconstruction of revetments, seawalls, and groins; beach nourishment; elevating and relocating buildings; sand-filled envelopes; salt marsh creation and restoration on coastal beaches; and design standards for new revetments, seawalls, and groins.

(+) The Inventories of Seawalls and Other Coastal Structures website within StormSmart Coasts provides inventories of both Publically Owned Coastal Structures and Privately Owned Coastal Structures. The Massachusetts Coastal Infrastructure Inventory and Assessment Project reports include condition ratings and estimated repair or reconstruction costs for publically owned coastal structures. There is a summary report for the project and community reports categorized by region. In 2013 Applied Science Associates, Inc. prepared a technical report that documents the location and type of coastal structures, such as seawalls and revetments, not included in previous phases of the Massachusetts Coastal Infrastructure Inventory and Assessment Project. These structures are presumed to be privately owned and provide a comprehensive assessment of shoreline armoring coast-wide.

(+) The Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) is a state and federal partnership that facilitates the New England states, federal agencies, regional organizations, and other interested regional groups in addressing ocean and coastal issues that benefit from a regional response. It is NROC’s mission to provide a voluntary forum for New England states and federal partners to coordinate and collaborate on regional approaches to support balanced uses and conservation of the Northeast region’s ocean and coastal resources.

(+) CZM’s Coastal Landscaping website shows how landscaping with native plants can help coastal property owners prevent storm damage and erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and reduce coastal water pollution—all while improving a property’s visual appeal and natural character. The Website presents: detailed information on the benefits of these landscaping techniques; step-by-step instructions on landscaping a bank, beach, or dune; tips for planting, installation, and maintenance; plant lists and photos; sample landscape plans; information on permitting; suggestions on where to purchase native plants; and links to additional information.

(+) In May 2008 CZM launched its new StormSmart Coasts program with a series of regional workshops. StormSmart Coasts is designed to support local efforts to protect people and property in coastal floodplains from erosion and storm damage. The program features an extensive StormSmart Coasts website that includes regulatory tools, case studies, planning strategies, and other technical assistance materials.

(+) EPA's water quality grade for the Charles River in 2007, based on the number of days the river met state boating and swimming standards for bacteria, was B++. The Charles met boating standards 100 percent of the time, and swimming standards 63 percent of the time, according to data collected by the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) between Watertown Dam and Boston Harbor. These measurements are the best levels recorded since the Charles River Initiative began in 1995. The Charles has improved dramatically from the launch of EPA’s Charles River Initiative in 1995, when the river received a D for meeting boating standards only 39 percent of the time and swimming standards just 19 percent of the time. An article Clean and Clear was published in the Boston Globe in October 2011. The article further documents the resurgence in health of the Charles River from the times of "love that dirty water" to one of the nation’s cleanest urban rivers. And EPA's grade for the Charles River in 2013 improved further to an A-.

(+) On May 28, 2008, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the Oceans Act of 2008, legislation that requires Massachusetts to develop a first-in-the-nation comprehensive plan to manage development in state waters. The ocean management plan, released in December 2009, was developed by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) in consultation with a 17-member ocean advisory commission and an ocean science advisory council. Passage of the Oceans Act into law was a top recommendation of a 2004 report by the Massachusetts Ocean Management Task Force. More info. To further support ocean management planning, SeaPlan (formerly Massachusetts Ocean Partnership) was formed and existed from 2006 to 2016, during which time it launched a comprehensive new website dedicated to ocean management in Massachusetts, with particular emphasis on marine spatial planning. The Draft Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, September 2014 (2014 draft ocean plan) is the first formal proposed amendment to the 2009 ocean plan.

(+) MassDEP has revised its Beach Nourishment: Guide to Best Management Practices in Massachusetts — developed for those proposing beach nourishment projects to minimize erosion and potential adverse environmental impacts, to promote the beneficial reuse of clean, compatible, dredge material, and to expedite regulatory review.

(+) In 2005, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the authority of a local government to bar residential construction in a flood-prone area and ruled that the community does not have to compensate the owner for being unable to build a home on a seaside property.

(+) Massachusetts’ Office of Coastal Zone Management hosts an online map server with long-term erosion rates. The website also has information fact sheets on shoreline change.

(+) With federal funds received for the 2003 beach season, the MDPH provided weekly beachwater laboratory testing for 60 coastal communities free of charge and is posting monitoring results on its website.

(+) Massachusetts Water Resources Authority developed at $230 million plan to control sewage and storm water contamination of beaches in North Dorchester and South Boston.

(+) A revised edition of The Massachusetts Coast Guide to Boston and the North Shore was published in 2004. This is now available online.

(0) The South Shore of Nantucket has retreated half a mile since colonial times. At least 25 buildings have either been condemned or destroyed since the 1980s. More than 50 homes could be destroyed in the next ten years.

(0) At least 81 beach fill projects have been carried out through 1998, at a cost of $56 million. At least five sites are currently proposing large beach fill projects.

(-) Even though there are some small-scale managed retreat actions locally, there is currently no state policy for managed retreat, which is becoming more urgently needed to respond safely to inevitable sea level rise and erosion. There exists coastal development that is vulnerable to immediate effects of erosion and is expected to be unsafe for human occupancy in the matter of months.

(-) The City of Gloucester receives a waiver each year allowing them to discharge partially treated sewage into the ocean.

(-) Governor Deval Patrick has proposed “streamlining” permits to destroy wetlands. The pending plan would 1) abolish many citizen appeals; 2) cut procedural safeguards governing wetland appeals making it harder to protect wetlands; and 3) eliminate independent review of state permit decisions. The net effect of these changes would leave lawsuits as the only effective means of preventing wetlands destruction.

(-) Private ownership extends to the low tide line. About three-quarters of the coastal frontage is privately owned.

(-) Acquisition efforts that increased the amount of publicly owned or accessible coastline by nearly 100 miles in the 1970s and 1980s have declined due to land costs and a scarcity of available property.

(-) The Massachusetts "Beaches Bill" was passed in 2000. Unfortunately, this water quality-related bill did not have earmarked funding attached.

(-) Environmental funding for Massachusetts has been cut by 25%, according to a report from the New England chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.


  • Ban the Bag, Boston! As written, this proposed ordinance bans plastic bags under 3ml and institutes a $0.05 charge to customers for all other checkout bags dispersed by retail shops at the point of sale, thus encouraging customers to bring reusable bags and limiting the needless waste that single-use bags produce! The Council voted UNANIMOUSLY in support of this ordinance on November 29, 2017 and Boston's Mayor Walsh has signed the single-use bag reduction ordinance into law!
  • Northeast Regional Ocean Planning We are pleased to announce that on December 7, 2016, the National Ocean Council certified the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan, launching us headlong into a more sustainable future and a paradigm shift in ocean management that looks at the ocean holistically as a system, rather than managing piecemeal by agency, spatial boundary, specific use, threat or species. Learn more by reading (and sharing!) our Coastal Blog. Now that the ocean plan is final, the Surfrider Foundation will engage in the vital work of implementation. Our staff and volunteers will continue to participate in ocean planning meetings to improve the iterative plan so that it best represents our goals in protecting the ocean and coastal ecosystems, and recreational areas. We'll be calling upon our ocean industry leader friends - surf shop owners, kayak tour guides, beachside pub and restaurant owners, SUP racers and the like - to help us engage locally as federal and state agencies begin to fully utilize the best practices established in the plan, and integrate the inherent expertise of our coastal communities and ocean users into decision-making processes that will inform the future of the sea.
  • New England’s Canyons and Seamounts Protected! Surfrider chapters in the Gulf of Maine supported the Obama Administration in its consideration of creating the first ever Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean to permanently protect three canyons and four seamounts. Designation would help protect these special areas from threats like overfishing and mining while maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem as well as superb recreational opportunities for low impact enjoyments. New England's Gulf of Maine is home to AMAZING underwater treasurers, including deep sea canyons, which plunge to depths greater than 7,000 feet (1,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon!) and astounding seamounts (which rise higher from the seafloor than any mountain east of the Rockies!), creating unique habitats that support tremendous biodiversity and fragile ecosystems. The Surfrider Foundation supported a coalition of environmental nonprofits who championed this effort to additionally call upon the Administration to provide permanent protection for this area. Read more.
  • Bag Ban in Cambridge The Massachusetts Chapter helped support this effort to ban single-use plastic bags in Cambridge! The ordinance passed the first hurdle on February 12, 2015, when the Ordinance Committee voted unanimously to forward a strong version of the proposed ban to the full city council with a positive recommendation, with the amendment the Chapter called for - adding a fee on paper bags. Check out this draft ordinance. This legislation, named the "Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance," came before the council for a final vote on March 30, 2015. The Council voted 8-1 to pass the Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance, making Cambridge the largest city on the East Coast to ban single-use plastic checkout bags and add a fee on paper bags! The ordinance goes into effect in March 2016. Read the final language here.
  • Bag Ban in Newburyport The Massachusetts Chapter helped support a coalition of Newburyport residents to help pass a bag ban in the town. The next step will be improving the ordinance to include a fee on paper!
  • Rec Use Characterization Proposal The Surfrider Foundation Northeast Region is heavily engaged in Regional Ocean Planning efforts. Our goal is to be proactive in protecting coastal and ocean ecosystems and recreational areas, before they're threatened. Along with strong partner organizations, SeaPlan and Point 97, Surfrider Foundation submitted a project proposal for the Northeast Regional Planning Body's RFP, to develop products characterizing spatial patterns of coastal and marine recreational activity in New England. Our proposal was selected, and we will be leading the way for everyday ocean recreation users - like surfers, beach strollers, wildlife watchers, kayakers and divers - to fill a data gap in the Northeast that will assist ocean planners in considering recreational areas as they plan to organize for current and future uses of the sea. Contact our Northeast Regional Coordinator for more information:
  • The Massachusetts Chapter created a database that contains all of the beaches along the Cape Ann Peninsula, North Shore, Boston Harbor, South Shore, Cape Cod Bay, Cape Cod, Buzzard's Bay, and the Islands (Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket). Chapter volunteers have surveyed all beaches in Massachusetts.

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

State of the Beach Report: Massachusetts
Massachusetts Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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