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What makes a great beach great?
When it comes to America's coast, greatness is in the eye -- and heart -- of the beachgoer.
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what makes a great beach great depends on perspective. For a coastal engineer, a great beach is stable (or one that is regularly restored), wide, with coarse sand and shell, a healthy dune and a gentle slope into the water. Most of the rest of us would like that, too, except some of us prefer finer sand. Coastal engineers don’t like that as much, because finer sand erodes more quickly.
A beach manager likes all those things, too, but he or she also has some preferences about what makes a great beach great. Those can include plentiful public beach accesses, adequate parking, lifeguards, dune and beach walkovers, bathrooms, garbage cans, concession stands, funding for maintenance and the like. Beach managers often like having beach uses separated, so swimming areas may be marked by buoys to restrict boats or fishing areas are kept away from surf breaks. They want different kinds of users (e.g. swimmers, boaters, fishermen, surfers) to enjoy themselves -- and their time at the beach (because a great beach is great only when you get to visit it, right?).
Biologists like most of these things, though they’d probably like fewer people on the beach. They like turtle and bird patrols, so that nesting areas are protected. They like special lighting to protect turtles and keeping dogs off the beach to protect birds... and they like a diverse habitat that combines variety with sustainability.
Beach users like all those things -- plus they like the beach not to be too crowded. That is a huge variable. What one may think is too crowded, others might find a little empty.
Every year, the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association spotlights its Best Restored Beaches, reminding people that the beach they love had been restored, perhaps years before, to keep it healthy and wide. Other groups regularly focus on beaches under an array of criteria -- sand quality, water quality, surfability, etc. -- in the relentless pursuit of greatness.
Where you go in search of a great beach also plays into the criteria that will be applied to it. For people in the Northwest, a great beach may be covered in cobble -- a far cry from the sugar-sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle. A great beach on the Atlantic will include high dunes, which would look out of place in the lower wave-energy beaches along the Gulf -- and even more out of place in the cliff-front beaches of California.
The more urban beaches of Long Island or Maryland or Florida, say, are as prized to some as the more remote coastal gems such as Assateague Island or Big Sur or the Mississippi Delta. Some may say a great beach must stretch for miles, while others prize the private pocket beaches formed by sediment brought downstream to the coast.
Most of all, beach users like the experiences and the memories. They remember long walks along the rocky beaches of Oregon or trudging out to the Pacific at Santa Monica, or romantic walks on Sanibel Island or a rainy windswept day on the beach at Long Branch. So if you wonder about what coastal engineers, beach managers, biologists and beach users everywhere have in common – it is the love for the beach and the memories that each visit brings back to them (or what they bring away from a day at the beach).
So go visit your favorite great beach soon... just to remind yourself what makes it great for you.
For more information about beaches, go to
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the ASBPA promotes the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa.