The State of the Beach

Nov. 15, 2017

Have you been to the beach lately? Chances are you didn’t take a checklist with you, but, it appears that many people do; they’ve been collecting data for more than a decade on the state of the nation’s coastline. The Surfrider Foundation recently released its 2017 “State of the Beach Report Card,” and it’s an alarming read.

We’ve been all about report cards lately, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card and the National Municipal Stormwater Alliance’s related one just for stormwater, so it’s fitting to include this one as well. The Surfrider Foundation draws attention to problems facing US beaches—ecological issues, limits on public access, threats from pollution and offshore drilling—and raises money to fight the problems, often in court. The nonprofit organization is staffed and supported by people who value the recreational opportunities the beaches offer—hence its name—but as the report card notes, the ocean economy contributes more than $352 billion per year to the nation’s gross domestic product. In other words, this should matter to you even if you’re not a surfer.

The organization assigns grades based on the strength of states’ policies regarding building setbacks, prohibitions against coastal armoring and rebuilding in coastal hazard areas, and support for incorporating sea level rise and coastal adaptation into planning documents. The report card includes a state-by-state breakdown for all coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico. A few highlights:

  • Only eight states got a grade of A or B for protecting their beaches, while 30 received a C or lower. Thirteen of those got a D or F, including all the Gulf Coast states except Texas, which got a C.
  • Coastal erosion is one of the biggest threats to the nation’s beaches, causing $500 million in property losses each year and costing the federal government $150 million per year for mitigation measures.
  • Most of the states that experience extreme weather events lack solid coastal preservation and sea level rise policies.

You can download a PDF of the full 82-page report here. The organization also has an interactive web page featuring information on many of the issues covered in the report card.

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.