LEARN: Beach Health

Learning more about what keeps beaches healthy is the first step to improving the health of our beaches. Pollution, human alteration, and impacts from climate change can harm the sensitive beach environment that supports a variety of plants and animals. Beaches can be altered or destroyed if we don't properly protect our beaches and learn to enjoy them without harming them.

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Pollution of coastal environments limits our ability to use beaches for economic, recreational and aesthetic purposes. Pollution also degrades and destroys unique beach habitat used by animals and plants. Polluted beaches are a public health risk, can reduce existing property values and can inhibit economic growth of the surrounding community.

Pollution can result from direct discharges, litter, or sources within the coastal watersheds that drain to the beach. Several EPA programs work to prevent pollution from the sources listed below.

Erosion and Habitat Degradation

Overuse of the beach can lead to the gradual degradation of habitat. Dunes can be eroded and vegetation destroyed by too much foot traffic. Boat traffic close to the shoreline can also cause beach erosion as a result of the wave action.

Dunes are important natural features because they protect the inland areas and marshes from flooding and storms, and because they provide a unique habitat for a number of animal and plant species, some of which are threatened or endangered.

Climate Change

Photo of water by edge
A seawall in Galveston, Texas and adjacent beach. (Source: USGS)

Coastal and ocean environments, including beaches, are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Sea-level rise is a problem that is already affecting coasts and oceans. Areas along the coastline such as beaches, wetlands, and estuarine habitats are at risk of becoming inundated or eroded, and may not be able to sustain themselves as the rate of sea-level rise accelerates.

As sea level rises, physical structures (seawalls, bulkheads, and other shoreline protection structures) prevent beaches from moving inland with the higher water levels.

Beaches at risk of inundation by sea level rise or erosion are unable to provide protection for communities along coastlines and important habitat for sea animals, birds, and other species. Also, more frequent extreme weather events carry higher levels of pollution to beaches from stormwater runoff and wastewater released from damaged infrastructure.

EPA’s Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation
This website provides information for communities to improve the resiliency of beaches to climate change.

Climate Ready Estuaries
Estuaries and coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to climate variability and change. This website describes what EPA is doing to address this challenge.

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