CSO Newsletter

The Coastal States Organization represents the nation’s Coastal States, Territories, and Commonwealths on ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resource issues.

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Spotlight on Coastal Management:

Why Coastal Access Is an Environmental Justice Issue

By Mardi Fuller, originally published on NRDC.org

As a Boston resident of more than 20 years, I have learned the secrets that unlock a great day at the beach. So when a friend who’s new to town asked me where to go to enjoy the coast, I was happy to relay a long list of complicated instructions. My advice included tips like applying for lottery reservation spots, arriving at beach parking lots at 6 a.m., and kayaking through estuaries and salt ponds to ultimately land a sandy square on a coveted piece of Massachusetts shoreline. Her look of confusion reminded me that getting to the beach should not be this difficult. 

Though Massachusetts boasts more than 1,400 miles of coastline, only about 170 miles (just 12 percent) are truly accessible to the public. Coastal towns control more than 35 percent of the state beachfront and vigilantly enforce residents-only access through measures that include parking limitations and walk-on passes. Private landowners control an additional 27 percent and the remaining 26 percent are cut off by natural barriers. Beachgoers without this elite entrée to private or semiprivate coastlines are subject to a “feet-in-water” policy. That means that on these beaches, the public only has the right to navigate, bird-watch, or fish between the low and high tide marks and may not “casually stroll.” Massachusetts is one of only four states in which coastal public easements don’t extend to the high tide line.

The discrepancy comes down to how each state implements the public trust doctrine, a legal principle that holds that certain natural resources belong to all people. First codified by the Roman Empire, it stated: “By the law of nature, these things are common to all mankind—the air, running water, the sea, and consequently, the shores of the sea. No one, therefore, is forbidden to approach the seashore.” 

Yet Massachusetts’s management of the doctrine, which dates back to the 1600s, is just one example of how inaccessible some U.S. coastal areas can still be. In fact, a recent report from the Center for American Progress and the Hispanic Access Foundation found that strong legal protections ensure equitable public access to only 10 percent of the U.S. coast and Great Lakes.

Such inequities stem from, and are perpetuated by, systems of racial injustice. But there are a growing number of solutions. Progress is being made at the grassroots level, where leaders within marginalized groups are working to build community and transform coastal culture (sometimes, one surfer at a time), and at the policy level, where equitable coastal access is being prioritized as part of climate adaptation plans and in the stewardship of our blue spaces. 

It’s no accident that coastal communities in the United States are predominantly white. Racist and exclusionary laws, policies, and practices kept many beaches, even public ones, off-limits to people of color through the 1970s. The long-lasting impacts of those historical injustices—racial segregation, housing covenants, and redlining, to name a few—continue to inhibit the ability of millions of people of color to enjoy what should be public spaces. Read the rest here.

Celebrating Black History Month

In the States and Territories

East Coast and Caribbean

Stories of Bellevue, MD: A Black Waterfront Community on the Chesapeake Bay

Bellevue is a historically Black village on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, dating back to the late 1800s. The village's location along the Tred Avon River made it an ideal destination for seafood packing plants, where residents worked as crab pickers, oyster shuckers, and clam shuckers. The opening of W.H. Valliant Packing Co. (1899-1946), a seafood packing plant, created new job opportunities, which caused the Bellevue community to grow. In 1945, the W.A. Turner and Sons Packing Co. was established, followed by the Bellevue Seafood Co. in 1964. Both companies were owned and operated by members of the Turner family and were two of three total African American-owned seafood packing houses on the Eastern Shore. Read more here.

The Gullah/Geechee People Hold Their Ground

Healing is becoming more precarious throughout the coastal Southeast as storms intensify, bringing damaging winds and flooding. Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season spawned 14 named storms and eight hurricanes, including the massively destructive Hurricane Ian. On sparsely inhabited lowland islands like Georgia’s Sapelo Island, tidal salt marshes, sand dunes and maritime forests help protect the mainland from some of the most severe storm impacts. Still, eroding shorelines, saltwater intrusion and temperature extremes caused by a shifting climate are altering the land—as is rampant, unsustainable development. Yet the Gullah/Geechee people persist in their work to sustain their culture and their homeland. Their efforts gained major momentum in 2000, when the Gullah/Geechee people enstooled Queen Quet as chieftess—or “Head pun de Bodee”—of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. In 2006, U.S. federal legislation established the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a National Heritage Area that stretches 475 miles through the Gullah/Geechee Nation, which runs from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission manages the heritage area and works to identify, interpret and preserve Gullah/Geechee cultural sites, artifacts and historical data. Read more here.

Gulf Coast

On Mississippi's Gulf Coast, a Local Advocate Works to Protect Underserved Communities and Wetlands

For more than 40 years, Gulfport, Mississippi, native Katherine Egland has been active on social justice and civil rights issues. And for the past 20 years, she has been on the front lines of environmental justice battles to keep the region’s historically Black neighborhoods safe from the twin threats of flooding and rapid development—including co-founding the Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate, and Health Organization (EEECHO) after Hurricane Katrina. Egland’s mission is to engage community members on climate and environmental justice issues, inspire residents to prevent environmentally hazardous developments, and advocate to city, state, and federal agencies. Read more here.

 ‘A Dream Deferred:’ 30 Years of U.S. Environmental Justice in Port Arthur, Texas

With the United States leading the world in oil and gas production, it’s boom time for the fossil fuel economy in Jefferson County. Local companies are expanding production and building new plants to make plastics, plastic feedstocks and liquified natural gas for export. But 30 years after President Bill Clinton signed the nation’s first presidential executive order on environmental justice, the economic disparity between billions of dollars of industrial investment along the Gulf Coast and the grinding poverty of mostly Black and brown Port Arthur have renewed calls locally for fairness, equity—and justice. ... Port Arthur and its sister city, Beaumont, home to a giant ExxonMobil refinery, demonstrate just how far the United States still has to go to address the disproportionate environmental and health impacts communities of color and low-income neighborhoods have borne for more than a century since the nearby gusher wells at Spindletop ushered in the modern petroleum industry in 1901 and changed southeast Texas forever. “That dream has been deferred for us,” said John Beard Jr., a former Port Arthur city councilman and retired ExxonMobil Beaumont refinery worker-turned environmental justice advocate who is challenging the fossil fuel industry locally and at United Nations climate and plastics summits. “We’ve got to have a clean, safe environment for ourselves and for our children.” Read more here.

Great Lakes

History and Nature Connect Us: Exploring the African American Heritage Water Trail

A refuge on the Underground Railroad. The birthplace of Environmental Justice. A landmark in the Civil Rights Movement. These — along with more than two centuries of African American history and progress — exist among the waters and watershed of the Little Calumet River, which flows through some of Chicago’s southside neighborhoods and suburbs and into northwest Indiana. The previously untold stories of this area are now being shared through the African American Heritage Water Trail, officially established in 2020. The trail has sparked rejuvenated enthusiasm among many to explore and share the area’s deep cultural history, restore industrialized and polluted river ecosystems and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. Development of the African American Heritage Water Trail was kickstarted by input from several community members and local organizations and carried forward by Openlands, whose goals are rooted in expanding equal access to nature. Local nonprofit Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) was one of the first organizations to begin sharing stories of the African American Heritage Water Trail. Staff invite community members of all ages to explore it via kayak, and train local youth to give tours of the trail. Many community members who join CAT to explore the trail are new to kayaking, or often to water sports all together, but are eager to learn about the sites of African American historical significance just a few paddles ahead. Read more here. Explore the trail virtually here.

From Cancer Alley to Chicago: The extraordinary legacy of Hazel M. Johnson, ‘mother of the environmental justice movement’

“We have abused the planet mercilessly for years, and now we are paying the price,” Hazel Johnson told a journalist in January 1995. Though Johnson, known as the “mother of the environmental justice movement,” spoke these words nearly 30 years ago, they resonate today as wildfires and record-breaking temperatures have been seen across Louisiana, driven in part by fossil fuel emissions. Born in south Louisiana, Johnson was instrumental in introducing federal legislation that recognized the disproportionate burden of pollution on communities of color, and established environmental justice as a new facet of the civil rights movement. But Johnson had moved from Cancer Alley only to land in what she later called a “toxic donut” — the Altgeld Gardens public housing development in Chicago’s South Side, built in 1945 to house Black veterans returning from World War II. Much like parts of south Louisiana where people report high levels of asthma, respiratory illness and cancer, Johnson’s new home in the North had its own troubles with pollution-linked illness. Unknown to Johnson and her husband, the public housing development where they moved in 1962 sat on top of old sewage canals, toxic landfills and a nearby industrial incinerator. Within seven years, Johnson’s husband had contracted and died of lung cancer. Following his death, Johnson’s grief and outrage drove her to investigate her neighbors’ other, seemingly related illnesses. What she discovered was a startlingly high cancer rate, which she linked to nearby industrial dumping sites, an incinerator and years of sewage and wastewater that ran directly through her neighborhood. Read the rest here. (See Hazel M. Johnson Fellowship posting on the job board below!)

West Coast and Pacific

A Milestone for Equitable Access in California

The California Coastal Act, a landmark state law enacted in 1976, prioritizes environmental protection and enshrines the public’s legal right to access and enjoy the coast. When community organizations Brown Girl Surf and City Surf Project ran into challenges running surf programs in Pacifica, California, they brought the issue to the California Coastal Commission, the agency in charge of enforcing the Coastal Act. Since 2005, Pacifica had limited surf school access to a small number of incumbent commercial operators. RLF grantee Brown Girl Surf and partners campaigned for several years to improve access for non-profit surf programs that were bringing youth to the coast. As a result of their efforts, in 2022, Coastal Commission staff began collaborating with the groups, staff from Pacifica and State Parks, and commercial surf schools to develop a new, fairer system. On May 11, the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved a new, coastal development permit (CDP) for surf schools in Pacifica that will improve access for nonprofit surf schools and the communities they serve. After the passage of the CDP, Adriana Guerrero-Nardone, Executive Director of Brown Girl Surf remarked, “This is a historical moment for our organization and our community and is something we’ve been waiting for a very long time. The decision is validating and affirming that we belong, that we’ve always belonged.” Read more here.

Black Americans Have Deep Ties to the Pacific — But They’ve Been Erased

In January, Marcus and Derrick Bruce sold their family’s beachfront land to Los Angeles County for nearly $20 million. The sale of the property — located on the ancestral land of the Gabrielino-Tongva people — is a remarkable development in a nearly 100-year saga in which the city of Manhattan Beach snatched land from Black property owners, including Willa and Charles Bruce (Marcus and Derrick’s great-grandparents). This land grab destroyed a burgeoning African American vacation spot and thwarted the ability for Black landholders to build generational wealth. In 2022, county officials returned the Bruces’ oceanfront property — the first time any government in the United States has returned land wrongfully taken from a Black family. And now, through the recent sale, the Bruce family is at last able to benefit from the extraordinary value of their Pacific Coast land. This story is important because of the spotlight it shines on the long history of land dispossession that has taken away crucial resources from communities of color in America and deprived them of the generational wealth Whites enjoy. But the history of the Bruce land also highlights how Black Americans have a deep connection to the Pacific Ocean — one often erased from popular culture. Cultural tales about the Pacific that center on Black experiences are not only part of regional histories. They also help us better understand ideas of Black identity and belonging in the American West. Read more here.

Events & Webinars

December 4 - March 15, 2024

February 23-24, 2024

February 28, 2024

March 6, 2024

March 12-14, 2024

April 3-6, 2024

May 12-16, 2024

May 13-14, 2024

June 23-27, 2024

October 6-10, 2024

NOAA Science Seminar Series


[NEW] NFWF and NOAA Release RFP for National Coastal Resilience Fund

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released a request for proposals for the FY 2024 National Coastal Resilience Fund. Funded projects will restore, increase, and strengthen natural infrastructure—the landscapes that help absorb the impacts of storms and floods—to ultimately protect coastal communities and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. This year, the fund will invest approximately $140 million in projects. Pre-proposals are due Wednesday April 10, 2024. Applicants invited to submit a full proposal will have a Tuesday July 2, 2024, deadline. The complete request for proposals can be found here. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is holding pre-proposal webinars on Wednesday February 28, Tuesday March 5, and Thursday March 7, 2024. Registration information can be found at the link above. If you have questions, please contact [email protected].

[NEW] White House Releases Fact Sheet on Annual Agency Action Plans

On February 14th, marking the first anniversary of the signing of President Biden’s second Executive Order on equity, federal agencies, including all Cabinet-level agencies, are releasing their 2023 Equity Action Plans, which include over 100 community-informed strategies and actions to address systemic barriers in our Nation’s policies and programs. The Biden-Harris Administration also released a new White House Progress Report on Equity, which highlights examples of the more than 650 actions agencies have undertaken since the release of their 2022 Equity Action Plans. Agencies acted to increase access to federal contracting dollars, capital, and lending programs for small disadvantaged businesses; reduce discrimination in the housing market; advance environmental justice and invest in disadvantaged communities; address health disparities, including disparities in maternal health outcomes in communities of color; build economic prosperity in rural communities; promote equity and fairness in the justice system; support victims and survivors of gender-based violence; root out bias in the design and use of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence; and bolster civil rights enforcement. Read the full fact sheet here.

[NEW] Climate Nexus's Water Hub Launches "Just Infrastructure" Initiative

This week Water Hub announced the launch of their new initiative, the Just Infrastructure storytelling campaign. Just Infrastructure is the goal of groups across the U.S. working to bring billions of federal dollars to the neighborhoods we live in and to the wild spaces that sustain us. Historic funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the downpayment we need to turn the tide for our water future. It is already supporting both nature-based solutions like wetland and river restoration and other fixes like lead pipe replacement and PFAS testing and treatment to deliver clean drinking water to families. Just Infrastructure celebrates projects taking root, and offers artwork, social media content, fact sheets, and message guides to encourage just implementation of these funds. Learn more here.

[NEW] RAE Coastal & Estuarine Summit Call For Abstracts

Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) proudly presents the 2024 Coastal and Estuarine Summit in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). This event will bring together the coastal restoration and management communities to explore issues, solutions, and lessons learned in their work. In the context of climate change, adaption, resilience and building inclusive coastal communities transcend our collective work, the Summit will address all aspects of coastal and estuarine restoration and management, including the Great Lakes and international locales. These topics are crucial as coastal

communities pursue new, more robust strategies to manage, protect, and restore their resources in a changing climate and the need to support all community members. Proposals are due Friday March 15, 2024. Read the full call for proposals here. Submit abstracts here.

Public Listening Sessions for the Future of Aquaculture at NOAA Fisheries

The NOAA Office of Aquaculture is undertaking a program review to responsibly plan for the future of its aquaculture program by considering how NOAA would implement the NOAA Aquaculture Strategic Plan under various scenarios. Regional and national listening sessions will be held throughout February and March – dates and registration information are available here.

EPA and National Endowment for the Arts Launch Inaugural Artist in Residence Program

At an event hosted by the White House and National Endowment for the Arts, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox announced EPA’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence program. The program is lead in collaboration with NEA and will recognize the profound impact that arts and culture play in shaping our lives, communities, and nation. By launching this program, EPA is investing in arts and culture to boost engagement, awareness and participation in critical water challenges ranging from aging infrastructure to climate impacts like flooding and storm surge to investment in safe drinking water. The first-of-its-kind program features six locations from EPA’s National Estuary Program and Urban Waters Federal Partnership, with the goal of incorporating arts and cultural strategies into these place-based programs.

The six locations include:

  • The Passaic River and Bronx and Harlem River Urban Waters Federal Partnerships: New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program
  • The San Juan Estuary Partnership
  • The Greater Philadelphia Area/Delaware River Watershed Urban Waters Federal Partnership: Partnership for the Delaware Estuary 
  • The Green-Duwamish Watershed Urban Waters Federal Partnership: Puget Sound Partnership
  • The Middle Rio Grande/Albuquerque Urban Waters Federal Partnership
  • The Mystic River Watershed Urban Waters Federal Partnership: Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Partnership

Urban Ocean Lab Releases Climate Readiness Framework for Coastal Cities

Urban Ocean Lab's Climate Readiness Framework for Coastal Cities offers 70+ recommendations that enable coastal cities to better adapt to and manage climate risks; create good, green jobs and a trained workforce; build healthier and more equitable communities; and safeguard the lives of their more than 65 million residents. The framework cover coastal ecosystems, offshore renewable energy, infrastructure, community resilience, and climate-driven relocation. Read the framework here.

Mid-Atlantic Ocean Forum Call for Abstracts

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) is accepting proposals for presentations and panel discussions for thesixth annual Mid-Atlantic Ocean Forum, which will be held in Lewes, Delaware, on May 13-14. The Forum is the region’s premier annual event dedicated to ocean planning, gathering ocean professionals and stakeholders representing federal and state agencies, Tribal entities, marine industries, nonprofit research and advocacy organizations, and the public. Early submissions are highly encouraged. They are seeking individual presentations, interactive sessions or panel discussions on the themes outlined below. Presentations/panels/activities that facilitate dialogue and have interactive components are encouraged. The themes are: data sharing and marine spatial planning; sustainable ocean economies; ocean-climate action; and conservation and healthy ocean ecosystems. Abstracts are due Wednesday March 6, 2024. Learn more and submit abstracts here.

National Sea Grant Law Center Accepting LOIs for 2024 Coastal Resilience Program Competition

The National Sea Grant Law Center (Law Center) is accepting applications from eligible applicants to conduct research on the effectiveness of laws and policies related to a wide range of coastal resilience issues including sea level rise, flooding, amplified storm surge, increased frequency and intensity of storms, land use, or other environmental factors, and whether those policies are achieving desired policy changes. The 2024 Coastal Resilience Program grants have a recommended funding level of $75,000, and the Law Center anticipates selecting up to two projects for funding. Matching funds will not be required. Letters of Intent must be received by 5 p.m. Central Time on Friday, March 8, 2024. Full proposals must be received by 5 p.m. Central Time on Friday, June 7, 2024. The anticipated award start date is February 1, 2025. The following entities are eligible and encouraged to participate in this funding opportunity: Sea Grant Programs, institutions of higher education, government agencies, and non-profit organizations that have the ability and capacity to conduct rigorous, non-partisan law and policy research. Learn more here.

Job Openings

In The States

[NEW] San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission - Climate Adaptation Specialist Environmental Scientist

[NEW] San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission - Shoreline Development Analyst

San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission - Coastal Scientist (Long-Range Planning)

San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission - Principal Waterfront Planner (Long-Range Planning)

Washington Department of Ecology, Shorelands and Environmental Assistance - Applied Coastal Research and Engineering Section Manager

California Coastal Commission - Multiple Coastal Program Positions

In The Agencies

[NEW] NOAA National Ocean Service, Office of Marine Sanctuaries - Education and Outreach Coordinator

[NEW] Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Office of Renewable Energy Programs - Renewable Energy Tribal Liaison Coordinator

[NEW] EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds - EPA Research & Analysis on Issues Related to National Water Programs Fellows (ORISE Fellow)

In NGOs, Industry, and Academia

[NEW] NEIWPCC - Environmental Analyst, Long Island Sound Study Bioextraction Coordinator

[NEW] National Marine Sanctuary Foundation - Community Engagement Specialist

[NEW] The Surfrider Foundation - Senior Manager of Coasts and Climate

[NEW] Black Girl Environmentalist - Hazel M. Johnson Fellowship

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Prairie Research Institute - Associate Research Scientist, Coastal Resilience

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation - Coastal Resilience Manager

Job Boards

Office for Coastal Management State Programs

Sea Grant Careers Page


The views expressed in articles referenced here are those of the authors and do not represent or reflect the views of CSO.

If you have a news item or job posting to include in future CSO Newsletters, please send an email to: [email protected] with a subject line: "Newsletter Content". Please include the information to be considered in the body of the email.

Please note: CSO reserves final decision regarding published newsletter content and may not use all information submitted.

Coastal States Organization | 50 F Street. NW, Suite 570, Washington, DC 20001 | 202-508-3860 | [email protected] | www.coastalstates.org
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