State of the Beach/Conclusion
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Conclusions & Recommendations
For over ten years, the Surfrider Foundation has collected information on beach access, surf zone water quality, beach erosion, beach fill, shoreline structures, beach ecology and surfing areas. These beach health indicators are designed to help us evaluate the condition of our beaches and the coastal environment. Our two primary conclusions are that beach health indicator information is still very limited and that the information we do have points to serious problems that our beaches are facing.
Beach Health Indicator Information is Limited
Information on beach erosion, beach fill, shoreline structures and beach ecology is limited. Some states do have good beach erosion data and a few now have an adequate shoreline structures inventory. States are doing a better job collecting and reporting beach access and surf zone water quality information. Coastal states are providing an increasing amount of beach health information over the Internet.
The indicator information that is available is often confusing. Results are inconsistent within and between states because the studies they are based on use different standards and criteria. Indicator information is also often not easily interpreted by the general public and elected officials.
Because there are significant gaps and limitations in beach health indicators information, it is difficult to know the extent to which our coastal and ocean resources are at risk and how to prioritize responses to the problem areas we can identify.
The Information That Does Exist Tells Us That Our Beaches Are at Risk
Despite problems with lack of availability of information about our beaches, we have enough consistent information to know that there are serious problems:
- The demand for beach access is growing, while the amount available is finite. Too much of the coastline is privately owned, restricting or preventing public access to the beach. Soaring coastal real estate prices make it very difficult for state or local government to acquire coastal property.
- The high number of beach closures and health advisories tell us that surf zone water quality often does not meet health standards. Major sewer spills and combined sewer overflows are occurring because of a lack of investment in sewer system infrastructure.
- As we block the natural sources of sand supply, beaches erode. As development continues to be sited along the shoreline and the sea level continues to rise, beach erosion is increasingly viewed as a problem. This is reflected in greater expenditures for beach fill and more armoring of the shoreline. These reactive responses threaten the sandy beach and the coastal environment.
Unless We Do Something About It, We Could Lose Our Beaches
We are talking about potentially losing not only the ability to get to a sandy beach and swim in clean water or build a sand castle, but also about much more: public health, habitat for key species, economic opportunities, quality of life, and the preservation of our coasts and oceans for future generations. It is crucial that all of us work to improve beach health.
There Are Actions We Can Take to Begin to Make Our Beaches Healthier
As a concerned citizen:
- Get informed. Do you sometimes wonder what is coming out of that pipe and onto the beach? Question your local officials. Find out who is watching over your beach and what their responsibilities are. Read the newspaper, listen to the news, attend a city council meeting, visit your local library, surf the Internet, attend a class. Do what it takes to gain a better understanding of issues affecting the health of your beach and what you can do to improve the situation.
- Take action. No one knows your local beach like you do. Put your local knowledge to work. If you are not already a member, join the Surfrider Foundation. Attend a local chapter meeting. If you live within a couple of hours' drive of the coast there's probably one near you. Visit our website to learn about a chapter near you.
Your elected officials need to know that you care about the health of the coast and ocean, and that you care about the decisions they make. Attend a city council or county commission meeting, write or call your state and congressional representatives. Speak through your vote when the time comes. Set an example for others in your daily behavior. Check out our calls to action on the Surfrider website.
- Get connected. No one can do it alone. Just as you get together with a buddy when you go swimming or surfing or diving, you should join with boaters, kayakers, joggers, dog walkers, kite fliers, and others in your area with common interests and concerns about the health of your coastal recreation areas. Talk about how you can coordinate efforts and resources. Use the strength of numbers.
As a coastal manager:
- Collect more information on beach health. Fill the data gaps that exist in your state for Surfrider's beach health indicators. At a minimum, all states should have accurate and up-to-date inventories of beach access sites, beach closures and advisories, storm drains and sewer outfalls, beach erosion "hotspots," beach fill projects, shoreline structures and beach ecology indicator species. Compiling this information may take considerable time and effort, but it should pay dividends in the long run by enabling a comprehensive statewide evaluation of coastal issues, which in turn will allow the development of policies and programs to address the issues. States should also have uniform ocean water quality standards, a comprehensive monitoring program with readily-available data, and prompt posting of beach closures.
- Collect better information on beach health. States, nations, and non-governmental organizations are increasingly using environmental indicators to support sound decision-making and policy development. Identifying meaningful measures of beach health, and establishing guidelines and criteria for the collection and reporting of this vital information, will enable states and the federal government to evaluate ecosystem status, track changes, and determine program effectiveness. This will provide a sound basis for decision-making and policy development.
- Work as a team. As a coastal manager or regulator it is easy to focus exclusively on your particular topic and territory. Communication and coordination - between agencies, across jurisdictional boundaries, and among the full range of organizations and individuals interested in the coast and ocean - can be difficult and time-consuming. But the approach makes sense and is consistent with recommendations of the Pew Oceans Commission report, the report by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and summary recommendations by the Joint Ocean Commission. Special area management planning and marine spatial planning are two mechanisms to engage stakeholders around regional issues. The reward of such efforts is not only improved efficiency, but also enhanced resource protection and economic opportunities.
- Increase public awareness. For all interests to be equally represented it is essential that the decision-making process be fully participatory. Educating the public about the economic and cultural value of coastal and ocean resources, the complexity of these resource-related issues, and the intricacies of the decision-making process will help make this happen. States have a vital role in giving public education the attention it deserves. One thing they can do is to develop user-friendly information. States can also make this information more accessible by using advances in technology that make it easier to share.