Equitable Access to Beaches and Coasts Is Lacking, Says Analysis

“U.S. coasts provide a multitude of benefits to the American public. They offer leisure in the form of recreational activities and relaxation; they improve overall health and act as cooling centers; and they create economic opportunities ranging from renewable energy to fishing to tourism. Ecosystems such as salt marshes and mangroves also improve climate resilience by providing protection from storm surge and increasing flood resilience. Proximity to the ocean has even been found to improve people’s mental and spiritual well-being.”

So begins a new analysis from the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress (CAP) that urges new policies to restore access and protect coastal areas from climate change. The analysis states that more than 400 million people visit estuary and coastal waters in the United States for recreation and tourism each year, contributing approximately $143 billion in gross domestic product and 2.5 million jobs. 

Despite all this, Americans are gradually losing the freedom to access beaches and coastal areas along the ocean and the Great Lakes, the analysis concludes. The authors analyzed the coastal access laws of coastal and Great Lakes states to determine the strength of their public access legal protections. The study found that only 10% of coastal areas in the United States have strong legal protections to ensure equitable public access.

“Historic segregation, discrimination, and exclusion have allowed privatization of coastal areas by the privileged,” said Kat So, a research associate at CAP and co-author of the brief. “All Americans should have the ability to enjoy the beautiful coastal areas of this country.”

Historic levels of funding for coastal restoration and resilience from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act present an opportunity for the government to protect coastal communities from the impacts of climate change by restoring vital coastal areas while also expanding equitable public access to the ocean and nature.

The authors make several recommendations to increase equitable coastal access:


  • Require that coastal projects that use federal funds provide coastal access.
  • Create an Equitable Coastal Access Advisory Group at the federal level.
  • Work to improve all dimensions of public access.
  • Protect and conserve more coastal areas.


“Latinos are among the fastest-growing demographics living on the coast, as well as among new recreational fishers, boaters and outdoor enthusiasts,” said Shanna Edberg, director of Conservation Programs for Hispanic Access Foundation and co-author of the brief. “Yet our communities face a gap in access to nature, including coastlines, and are among the most vulnerable to an over-polluted ocean with dwindling natural resources and increased climate threats. Facilitating public access with more protected coastal areas will allow all communities to enjoy our country’s beautiful outdoor spaces.”

To read the analysis, visit https://www.americanprogress.org/article/how-to-fix-americans-diminishing-access-to-the-coasts.