The National Park Service , under the U.S. Department of the Interior , manages ten tracts of coastal land known as national seashores. Over 435 miles (700 km) of Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coastline, including over 592,800 acres (240,000 hectares) of beaches, dunes , sea cliffs, maritime forests, fresh ponds, marshes, and estuaries comprise the National Seashore System.
Protection of the sensitive natural habitats is only one of the objectives of the National Seashores System that the Park Service has established. These areas are also lightly developed for recreational purposes, including roads, administrative buildings, and some commercial businesses. In fact, until recently it was stipulated that public access must be provided to these areas. A third objective is to combat coastal erosion , as beaches and dunes are important as buffers to coastal storms.
The need to preserve coastal areas in their natural states was recognized as long ago as 1934, when the Park Service surveyed the Gulf and Atlantic coasts and identified 12 areas deserving of federal protection. The first of these to be authorized was Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a narrow strip of barrier island on the North Carolina outer banks. Acquiring the land, however, remained a problem until after World War II, when the Mellon Foundation matched state contributions and purchased the first of what is now over 100 mi (160 km) of beaches, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest.
In 1961, Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts was the second area to be so designated. Protecting beach and dune areas of biological and geologically significance, this site was acquired with legislation that set the standard for future Park Service acquisitions. The "Cape Cod Formula" is the model for current regulation and purchase of private improved lands by the Park Service.
Five more sites were authorized between 1962 and 1966, including Fire Island on Long Island, New York, and Point Reyes National Seashore, the only national seashore on the west coast. Assateague Island, on the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia, was deemed too developed to become a protected area but a nor'easter storm in March 1962 destroyed or seriously damaged nearly all of the development. By 1965, about 31 mi (50 km) of shoreline were purchased and became part of the National Seashore System.
In the 1970s, the final three national seashores were authorized. Gulf Islands is a non-continuous collection of estuarine, barrier island, and marsh habitats in Mississippi and Florida. It also includes an historic Spanish fort. Cumberland Island, Georgia, is the most "natural" of the ten national sea shores and is completely undeveloped with the only access being a public ferry from the mainland. The other National Seashores are Padre Island, in Texas; Cape Lookout, in North Carolina; and the newest national seashore, Florida's Cape Canaveral.
The National Historic Preservation Act (passed in 1966), the Coastal Zone Management Act (1972), and the National Seashore Act (1976) have been written to ensure that not all natural coastal areas fall to development. Public recognition and subsequent congressional action have saved these few areas that are important as fish and shellfish spawning and nursery areas, bird and sea turtle nesting grounds, and refuges for threatened vegetation and wildlife .
See also Wetlands
[William G. Ambrose Jr. ]
Kaufman, W., and O. Pilkey Jr. The Beaches Are Moving: The Drowning of America's Shoreline. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1983.
Mackintosh, B. The National Historic Preservation Act and the National Park Service: A History. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1986.