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Surfrider Foundation

CA - Expert Panel Provides Guidance for Beach Access During COVID-19

The COVID-19 public health crisis has brought protection of public health into significant tension with the people's right to access and enjoy our shorelines. In response, the Surfrider Foundation assembled an expert task force to address whether and how to allow access to the beach during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This  issue requires consideration of many important factors, which is why we assembled a team of highly accomplished experts in public health, coastal management, environmental justice, and public policy to guide the Beach Access during COVID-19 Guidance report.

The guidance is intended as a first step to lay out important principles and a framework for coastal regulators to consider when making management decisions about beach access.  Of course local context matters, including unique demographics and geographic features, and regional and local details regarding status of public health and pandemic recovery, propensity for crowding, open space opportunities and equity considerations, as well as the predominant local shoreline uses.

The Surfrider Foundation has a long history of fighting to protect and promote beach access and coastal recreation opportunities; however, we are in an unprecedented time that requires some public beach closures for a temporary period. The Beach Access Expert Panel was called upon to utilize their specific expertise to inform local and state beach access policy making.  As a strong network of coastal users, Surfrider Foundation is relied upon throughout the nation for timely, thoughtful and considerate advice on the protection and enjoyment of coastal resources in an equitable manner. This guidance informs beach access and management decisions in the difficult time of the coronavirus pandemic, including the ability, frequency and manner in which the public may be able to use the beach. The guiding principles developed by the experts are detailed below:

PRINCIPLES

1. Public Trust and Mental Health

The public has an inherent right of access to and along all beaches and shorelines. Beaches, coastal parks, and the ocean are public spaces, held in the public trust by the government. Beach access and coastal and ocean use are part of important traditional, historical and/or customary practices. Studies have shown that public beach access and ocean recreation are important contributors to good health and mental wellness.

2. Limiting Access When Necessary

Public health and safety – protecting the public from illness or injury – is a paramount concern. In order to prioritize public health, maintain physical distancing requirements, and avoid overcrowding beaches and coastal parks, some areas will require management approaches that limit access. Closing beaches or limiting access runs counter to the public’s interest in shoreline access, except in situations where there is a severe threat to public health and safety or to prevent undue ecological harm. Restrictions on access should be temporary when possible and emergency public health issues should not be used to permanently exclude people from public spaces.

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You can see the full report here.