State of the Beach/State Reports/AL/Beach Access

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Alabama Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access37
Water Quality75
Beach Erosion6-
Erosion Response-2
Beach Fill4-
Shoreline Structures2 5
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas35
Website3-



Policies

Accessing the Alabama Coast contains information to help waterfront users, coastal communities, and land owners address issues related to coastal access. Under Common Law and Statutes, the following is stated:

"In Alabama, coastal property owners own land to the mean high tide line. The intertidal land is owned by the state in trust for the public under the public trust doctrine. The right to own property and exclude others from it is a fundamental feature of U.S. law. Under Alabama common law, coastal property owners may prevent people from gaining access to the shoreline of their land. Gaining unauthorized access – either perpendicularly or horizontally to the shore – may be trespassing for which one may be liable in court.

The government has authority under its police powers to make laws protecting the welfare of its citizens, including regulating lands next to beaches and shores. Under the public trust doctrine, the government is obliged to act on behalf of the public to protect publicly-owned submerged lands below the mean low tide line, and publicly owned natural resources such as fish, bivalves, and seaweed that might be extracted from the shore.

The U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions also give the government the right to take private property under the power of eminent domain but only if the landowner receives appropriate compensation. Sometimes the government’s attempts merely to regulate behavior on or use of land goes so far as to amount to a "taking" requiring the government to pay the landowner for the lost value of the land.

State laws affecting public access to the shore include:

  • Alabama Coastal Area Management Program (ACAMP)
Ala. Code § 335-8-1
  • Alabama Recreational Use Statute
Ala. Code § 35-15-20"

Site Inventory

One of Alabama's state parks is Gulf State Park in the city of Gulf Shores. Here's information on their beaches.

See this Description of Alabama Gulf Coast beaches and a Google Map.

Alabama's Draft Assessment and Strategy (October 2010) reported the following regarding the number of public beach/shoreline access sites:

"Exact number unknown. Baldwin County: Several Gulf-fronting beach access points owned and/or operated by state, local and federal governments. Mobile County: Access on Dauphin Island is limited to a few access points. Along Mobile Bay, there are numerous bay-front access points."


But the Assessment also states:

"Public access in coastal Alabama is a high priority at all levels of government in the state, and facilities have been developed or improved on existing or recently acquired sites with frequency, especially since the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Public access is an amenity that is so well-used and enjoyed by residents that it has come to be an expected resource provided by government. In addition, the number and availability of public access sites draws tourists to the area and increases the revenue base of state, county and local governments."


Beach Attendance Records

Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau complies numerous statistics and reports regarding number of visitors to Alabama's coastal areas and their economic impact.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

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.[1] Tourism and recreation comprised 71 percent of the employment in the Gulf region’s 2003 ocean economy.[2]

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

Alabama's Draft Assessment and Strategy (October 2010) noted:

"The demand for coastal public access includes canoe/kayak launches, walking trails, boardwalks leading to public beaches to avoid decimating natural vegetation, adequate parking, including handicapped, at public access sites, etc. The Coastal Section’s process for assessing public demand for coastal public access involves communication with local governments to determine needs for public access."


Public Education Program

Accessing the Alabama Coast contains information to help waterfront users, coastal communities, and land owners address issues related to coastal access. The intent of this website is to offer specific tools that address specific needs.

Contact Info

Footnotes

  1. 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 (http://www.oceaneconomics.org/). 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.
  2. 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 (http://www.oceaneconomics.org/). 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: Alabama
Alabama Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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