Surfrider Foundation Beach Access Policy
In Surfrider Foundation's past 25 years of working towards protection and enjoyment of our coastlines, we have amassed a vast and rich history of beach access campaigns and victories. Because beach access is a central component of Surfrider Foundation’s mission and strategic plan, the goal of this policy is to promote low-impact, universal beach access, while recognizing the balance of ecological integrity of the shoreline with the opportunity for optimized beach access. The policy also addresses perpendicular, horizontal and visual/scenic access to the beach as well as a balance of recreational user group interests.
Our Chapters have had many great victories in the past involving beach access, and there are ongoing campaigns as well. These include campaigns for improved beach access legislation and preservation of strong laws, like the Texas Open Beaches Act.
We also have a Coastal A-Z article that discusses beach access.
The Board of Directors approved the policy in their June 2009 meeting and the policy has been reviewed and revised with input from Surfrider Foundation Activists, Chapters and Affiliates.
You can link to the final policy language here and find it below. This policy can be used as a guidance document in dealing with any local beach access campaigns, as well as an attachment to legal briefs or administrative appeals regarding beach access.
Surfrider Foundation Beach Access Policy
Approved by the Surfrider Foundation Board of Directors on June 27, 2009
Surfrider Foundation views beach access as a universal right. Surfrider Foundation works to secure universal, low-impact beach access for all people. Surfrider Foundation’s members live, work, visit, and recreate on and near the world’s beaches, and are impacted by beach access limitations.
Surfrider Foundation recognizes that the public’s right of access to waterways is often based on the Public Trust Doctrine, and is further reflected in international, regional, and state laws and Constitutions. The Public Trust Doctrine is derived from the ancient Romans and incorporated into American law as a statement that the government retains rights in certain lands and resources in trust for the public, acting in its sovereign capacity as trustee for the beneficial use and enjoyment of the public. Specifically, governments hold title to navigable waters and the public has the right to use those waters, shorelands, and submerged lands. Surfrider works to increase public awareness and educate the public about their beach access rights, including those under the Public Trust Doctrine. In addition to the public trust right of access, the public may enjoy a right of access to and along the beach through custom, use or legislative authorization.
Surfrider Foundation also recognizes the importance of balancing ecological integrity with beach access. Surfrider Foundation recognizes the unique ecological, recreational and economic value of the world’s coastal resources. We support strong beach preservation and protection efforts when securing or augmenting low-impact beach access opportunities. As a grassroots, environmental organization, Surfrider Foundation works toward both the preservation and enjoyment of our precious coastal resources.
Surfrider Foundation acknowledges that increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are inducing increased sea level rise. According to the Public Trust Doctrine, the right to use a public resource (or “trust”) attaches to the shoreline regardless of the shoreline’s movement. In this way, the doctrine’s protections adapt to changing sea levels because the zone of protection moves landward or seaward as the shoreline erodes or accretes. Access should not be thwarted by the destruction of the beach, and the public should not be deprived of the benefit of natural environmental resources and habitat through beach replenishment projects, shoreline armoring, coastal development or other potentially destructive practices.
This policy is general in nature; the Surfrider Foundation recognizes that every specific case must be evaluated in the context of its local setting.
Beach access is a universal right and necessary for the public’s enjoyment of the beach. Surfrider Foundation promotes the rights of the public, including all recreational user groups, and members of the community to enjoy low-impact beach access, including the enjoyment of coastal aesthetics. Surfrider encourages recreational user groups to balance their interests and to work cooperatively with local residents and decision-makers to ensure maximized coastal access for all persons.
The Surfrider Foundation believes decision-making bodies should recognize the following principles when evaluating beach access issues:
- The public has an inherent right of access to and along all beaches and shorelines. Generally, local authorities have the primary authority to develop and maintain public access to and along the shorelines.
- Existing public coastal access opportunities must be retained, new or increased public access opportunities should be provided, and development must not be allowed to interfere with public access. Furthermore, beaches that provide access for water-oriented recreational activities should be protected for such uses.
- The public should be afforded full and fair access to beaches, which are public trust resources, by minimizing the possibility of impediment; including development, subdivision or land use zoning change; or deterring obstacles, including gates, fences, hired security, misleading signage, rock walls, shrubbery or other blockades, being placed upon public rights of way to beach access.
- Means of access to the beach (or “perpendicular access”) should be readily available and secured so as to maximize access along the coast and should not be overly burdensome for the potential beachgoer to utilize.
- When beach access may impede upon sensitive ecological coastal resources, beach access may be managed or restricted if necessary to protect the sensitive ecological coastal resource. Not all beach and coastal areas are appropriate for heavy recreational use or significant human presence. Sensitive ecological areas warrant restrictions and buffers to reduce negative impacts to beach ecosystems.
- There exists a cultural value of active visitation to the beach as part of traditional, historical and/or customary practices.
- Coastal views from offshore to the inland coastline and from inland areas to the ocean view should be highly-valued. The public coastal viewshed should be preserved in relation to all public viewing corridors, including from offshore, ocean-based vantage points and views of surfers, fishers, boaters, kayakers, and others from nearshore waters.
- Preferably, the world’s beach resources would always be open and free to all persons. However, if parking or beach fees are collected, the recovered funds should be used for purposes which are directly related to coastal access, recreation, management, restoration, conservation, and preservation efforts in the general vicinity of where the fees are collected.
- Wherever appropriate, public facilities, including parking areas, showers, bathrooms, changing areas and other amenities, should be made available in a manner that mitigates the adverse impacts, environmental, social or otherwise of public access.
- Surfrider Foundation advocates for development setback requirements that take into account the rate of sea level rise, so as to allow any new structures to withstand damage from hurricanes or flood events without the use of shoreline armoring or other ecologically destructive development. Coastal development policies should work towards managed landward retreat of existing structures from eroding shorelines. Any access improvements should also contemplate sea level rise.
The Surfrider Foundation is an environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches for all people through conservation, activism, research and education. Our membership includes beach goers, surfers, windsurfers, fishermen, kayakers, other ocean users and people concerned with the protection of the world's beaches and oceans.