Stretches of beach along the coasts provide numerous recreational opportunities for millions of people. Boating, fishing, swimming, walking and sunbathing are among the numerous activities enjoyed by beachgoers.
The beach provides a unique habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Most of migratory waterfowl depend on coastal beaches during their life span. Dune vegetation provides nesting areas for several kinds of birds and animals.
In the hot, wet climate of the tropics, mangrove trees dominate estuarine / lagoonal beaches. In the harsher climate, beaches are dominated by a few species of hardy grasses and bushes that can withstand strong winds and intense summer sun.
People using near-shore waters can have an adverse impact on aquatic resources. It can result from activities occurring on the beach itself or from points within the coastal watershed that drain to an area of the beach. Marine debris, such as litter left on the beach after a picnic, is an example of a local impact.
The near-shore is defined as an indefinite zone extending seaward from the shoreline well beyond the breaker zone. It defines the area where the current system is caused primarily by wave action. Marine debris is trash floating on the ocean or washed up on beaches. It comes from many sources, including beachgoers, improper disposal of trash on land, storm water runoff to rivers and streams, ships and other vessels, and offshore oil and gas platforms.
Water pollution that affects our beaches comes from many sources, some close to the ocean and some very far away. Due to gravity, all water flows downhill through a watershed and picks up pollutants from the land along the way.
A watershed refers to a combination of streams, rivers, bays, and estuaries that water flows through to eventually reach the ocean. In addition to the pollutants picked up from land, wastes discharged into local waterways also eventually reach the ocean.
Pollution of coastal environments threatens the use of beaches as an economic, recreational, and aesthetic resource. Water quality problems and debris not only harm the sensitive aquatic habitat in the near-shore waters but are aesthetically displeasing as well.
Some typical impacts from activities farther up in the watershed include poor water quality from excessive nutrients and from litter washed into storm drains.
Sewage discharged from vessels can also be visually repulsive and decreases the use of water-bodies for contact sports, such as swimming, water skiing, and snorkeling.
Water sports in or ingesting waters contaminated with microorganisms (pathogens) can result in human health problems such as sore throat, gastroenteritis, or even meningitis or encephalitis.
In addition, sewage released in the vicinity of shellfish beds pose a public health problem. Because shellfish are filter feeders, they concentrate the pathogens in their tissue, thereby causing the shellfish to be unsafe for human consumption.
The most notable diseases potentially transmitted by the ingestion of shellfish contaminated with the pathogens are gastroenteritis, dysentery, infectious hepatitis, and typhoid fever.