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Surfrider Foundation’s State of the Beach Report gives Golden State an A for its coastal protections

By Jake Howard

The San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation released its annual State of the Beach Report earlier this month, and there were some promising findings for the State of California.

Out of the 30 states (plus the territory of Puerto Rico) surveyed, California was one of only 11 to receive an A or B grade. Unfortunately, the report found that an eye-popping 67% of coastal areas are performing at adequate or poor levels.

To make its assessment, Surfrider leveraged a set of 12 different criteria broken up into four categories. This included sediment management, development, coastal armoring, and sea-level rise. 

The states and territories that received the highest marks were those that feature “strong policies regarding coastal building setbacks, restrictions on coastal armoring, limiting development and redevelopment, and the advancement of progressive sea-level rise policies that encourage local governments to incorporate climate adaptation measures into land use plans.” 

“Rising seas and more powerful storms are already damaging community infrastructure, shrinking coastlines and diminishing the public’s ability to enjoy our favorite beaches across the country,” Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, Surfrider’s senior manager of the Coast and Climate Initiative, said in a prepared statement.

“It is imperative that local, state and federal governments work together to protect our coastal communities from the growing impacts of climate change. Long-term climate planning not only safeguards our coastal communities, but it also makes economic sense,” Sekich-Quinn continued.

Not taking significant action against climate change, Sekich-Quinn noted, citing a recent report, could cost the U.S. economy $14.5 trillion over the next 50 years.

“Surfrider’s report provides a road map for states to improve coastal management and proactively plan for climate change impacts,” she said.

One of the biggest findings, and one that we’re seeing play out right before our eyes here in Orange County, is that 50% of U.S. beaches are under threat from coastal erosion. It’s a subject we tackled in this column a few weeks ago, and continues to be extremely pressing, especially along Beach Road and further south at Trestles and San Onofre.

“Surfrider has intentionally been increasing our work on climate change mitigation and adaptation to help provide solutions to this global issue,” Sekich-Quinn said. “In addition to the graded assessments, we have also included targeted suggestions for improvements for each state in our report.”

“While the climate emergency is daunting, Surfrider is working around the country every day with our network of volunteers and local representatives to help protect our communities, ecological resources and recreational access,” she added.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. There were some positive findings. Surfrider points to both the Biden administration and Congress as taking important steps to protect our coastlines and prepare for climate change.

The report highlights two important federal bills that will, hopefully, make a difference. The first is the bipartisan infrastructure bill, as well as the Inflation Reduction Act. Both will provide financial resources to communities so they can invest in infrastructure that is more resistant to the effects of climate change.

Surfrider also celebrated the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, which is still working its way through Congress. If it is signed into law, it will “improve ocean protection, increase Blue Carbon Ecosystems, promote responsible renewable offshore energy and help communities to adapt to sea-level rise.”

The first State of the Beach report was released in 2017, and it’s important to remember that a lot of areas are moving in the right direction. The fight to preserve and protect our beaches and oceans is one that can be won.

Since the first report, Surfrider has found that 12 states have improved their coastal policies as they develop strategies to deal with the effects of climate change, including coastal erosion and sea-level rise. California continues to be a leader in this effort, and we should all be proud of that.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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