Finding environmentally sound (and safe) beaches

Q. I’m a new mother, and want to give my young daughter her beautiful beach weekend, but I’m afraid of the health hazards you hear about, and also don’t want to support poorly managed shorefronts. Short of waiting to see which beaches become so polluted that they’re closed down, is there any way I can I can find out in advance which ones are cleaner and more environmentally-sound than others? –Carole Anne, Florida

A. Though state health departments monitor water quality at swimming beaches for bacteria and other major health risks (the EPA maintains a centralized database of closings and warnings by state), there are plenty of other factors that determine the environmental health ranking of any given beach. And it makes sense to set the bar a little higher than simply trying to avoid used syringes and lurking e.coli. A well-managed beach should not only be free of such nasties, it should also have a wide strip of litter-free sand, healthy dunes with plenty of native grasses to prevent erosion, and safeguards in place to protect the fragile, coastal ecosystems. Sounds idyllic, right? Well, there are two independent programs that can help you pre-select a beach that meets your (justifiably) high standards. Non-profit Clean Beaches Council and Florida International University both run national beach certification programs. They base their respective certification programs on extensive environmental criteria, including: water quality, erosion control, dune and wildlife preservation, sustainable development, and litter control, as well as on simple safety considerations like currents patterns and rip tide strength. So peruse their on-line lists of Certified Blue Wave Beaches and Certified Healthy Beaches, grab your chemical-free sunscreen and organic cotton towel, and hit the boardwalk.

-          Sarah Schmidt 

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