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2020 State of the Beach

The 2020 State of the Beach Report grades 31 U.S. states, and the territory of Puerto Rico, on their policies to protect our nation’s beaches from: coastal erosion, sea level rise, and poorly planned development. The results reveal 74% of coastal states are doing a mediocre to poor job of managing our nation’s shorelines and preparing for future sea level rise. With 23 out of 31 states and territories performing at adequate to poor levels, most of the lowest grades are located in regions heavily impacted by extreme weather events. These states tend to have less stringent policies regarding development in hazardous coastal zones, sediment management, ineffective or nonexistent regulations on coastal armoring, and/or little in the way of policies that require the incorporation of sea level rise projections into coastal planning.

Surfrider’s report finds that only eight states are doing a ‘good or better’ job (e.g., earned a grade of A or B based on relevant criteria) of protecting beaches. The higher scoring states had strong policies regarding coastal 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.

“From unprecedented fires, to extreme hurricanes, and increasing sea level rise, local communities are presently experiencing climate change impacts,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, Coastal Preservation Manager at the Surfrider Foundation. “Scientists predict these impacts will continue to grow, especially for coastal communities. Therefore, it is imperative that states and municipalities improve shoreline management practices by curtailing poorly planned development, planning for sea level rise, and investing in proactive, nature-based solutions. Our report recommendations aim to improve responses to coastal threats, thereby ensuring strong, resilient coastlines for the future generations.”

Adopting policy recommendations provided in this report will be imperative for all coastal states in the future. A new mapping effort conducted by the First Street Foundation shows that in the future, the U.S. will experience drastically more flooding than previously calculated by the

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The conclusions are daunting, and estimate that 14.6 million properties are at risk from a ‘100-year flood’, far more than the 8.7 million properties estimated by FEMA. The new mapping effort also uncovered that 70% more buildings in the U.S. are vulnerable to flood risk than previously thought, with most of the flooding impacting low-income neighborhoods.

This study is not unique in identifying impacts to low-income and underserved
communities. Addressing environmental impacts on underserved communities, also known as “environmental justice,” has become a priority in 2020, with many communities, national leaders, and environmental advocates raising awareness and providing solutions to help work on this systemic issue.

During 2020, wildfires, hurricanes, severe rains, oppressive heat waves and extreme weather ravaged our planet, particularly impacting the U.S. While being at the mercy of forceful events is unnerving, these disasters have helped people see the connection between climate change and ‘extreme weather events’ – and how such events can disproportionately impact low-income and underserved communities. And these events are only a glimpse of what is to come as our climate continues to drastically change.

As a result of the assessments and recommendations provided by Surfrider’s State of the Beach Report, it is our responsibility to work together to drive awareness of the increasing challenges facing our nation’s coasts. We must improve local, state and federal government policies on erosion response and sea level rise to protect our ocean, waves and beaches for the future. To find out how to help advance your state to the next level to prepare for urgent climate change impacts, visit Surfrider’s State of the Beach Report or find out more at