Plastic Pollution, Water Quality
September 05 2014

NOAA Study Finds Southern Californians Will (and Do!) Pay More to Visit Clean, Unpolluted Beaches

by Maggie Coulter

Every year the Surfrider Foundation coordinates with the Ocean Conservancy and the California Coastal Commission on International Coastal Cleanup Day to sweep clean beaches all over the world. Chapters all along our nation’s coast organize monthly regional cleanups where volunteers pick up trash on local beaches. Members of Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force collect water samples to ensure safe water quality at beaches. Surfrider endeavors to reduce the impacts of plastics in the marine environment by advocating for a reduction of single-use plastics and the recycling of all plastics, and raising awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution through our Rise Above Plastics campaign. Surfrider support laws that address prevention and response to ocean trash aligned with our Rise Above Plastics program, including the California Bag Ban which recently passed in the state legislature.  A new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tells us why efforts by Surfrider and other volunteers to reduce the amount trash on our beaches are so significant.

NOAA’s new study shows that Southern California residents are losing millions of dollars each year when they travel farther to visit cleaner beaches, opting not to visit trash-strewn or polluted ones. In fact, if Southern Californians cleaned up just 25% of beach trash, the study estimates that locals would save approximately $32 million just for the summer months. If 100% of the trash is cleaned up, the savings would reach nearly $148 million for that time period.

Unlike any marine debris research study conducted before, the Marine Debris Economic Study looks at beachgoers’ behavior as a way of understanding desirable beach characteristics. In addition to measuring trash and pollution levels, the study tabulated the availability of parking and bathrooms, whether the beach was cleaned by the municipality, as well as surveyed Orange County, CA residents about their beachgoing habits. The study shows that beachgoers are willing to pay more and drive farther to visit cleaner beaches. Residents surveyed by the study highlighted having no marine debris on the beach, and good water quality as the two most important criteria in deciding which beach to visit.

In an article in the Orange County Register, Surfrider Environmental Director Chad Nelsen commented that this study was particularly useful in illuminating the value that residents put on unpolluted, trash-free beaches. “I think in some ways, it tells us something we already know but puts a value on it, that the public wants to visit clean beaches,” Nelsen is quoted. “People are either going to dirty beaches and suffering, and this is the measure of their value of that, or they are going to a different beach.”

Nancy Wallace, Program Director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, reiterates the importance of a study that quantifies people’s desire for cleaner beaches. In a NOAA press release she noted that, “This study shows that beachgoers are worried about marine debris and will seek out cleaner beaches for recreation at a cost.”

The study marks a significant scientific step in quantifying economic losses and legitimizing local concerns about coastal water pollution and beach trash. The study finds that Southern Californians are concerned about beach trash and pollution; public support like this will make it easier for governments to increase funding and programs for marine debris prevention and removal. Additionally, data gathered by replicating this type of study along other stretches of coastline can be used to set priorities for cleaning up the dirtiest beaches.

This year the International Coastal Cleanup Day is September 20, 2014. If you’re interested in cleaning up your local beach, check out your local Surfrider chapter’s website to sign up for a monthly cleanup.