According to NOAA, over 40% of the U.S. population (around 127 million people) lives along the coast. Every year, coastal counties employ 57.5 million people, pay $3.6 trillion in wages, and produce $9.0 trillion in goods and services. If they were considered as an individual country, coastal counties would rank third in the world for gross domestic product. Additionally, ocean-based tourism and recreation contribute around $124 billion annually, and coastal leisure and hospitality businesses generate over $175 billion in earnings. So, we know that the coast has a history of profitability, but why are so many people attracted to this area? I believe it’s deeper than just the numbers.
The first time I stepped foot on the beach and jumped through ocean waves is unforgettable. When I moved to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for college, I had never lived by the sea; the view of bright, shining waves from every building drew me in like hypnosis. There is something so settling about watching the waves crash against the shore; I can’t help but feel at peace, and I treasure this deep spiritual connection. Science shows that many others relate to this: “I feel part of something that is greater than myself; feel more connected to nature; I gain perspective on life.”
Recreational lifestyle can also explain what drives people to the coast and makes them stay. Oceans and bays have inspired water-based pastimes and economies, and cities have been established around the success of these industries. Those with a passion and/or business in ocean centric activities migrate to the coast to find like-minded people and opportunity. ‘Life’s a beach,’ is often quoted as the official tagline of those who reside near the water. The coast has its own culture; one that inspires people not to take life too seriously and encourages them to live leisurely on “island time.”
Others are attracted to the perception of the party-lifestyle of the coast; as Jimmy Buffet says, ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere.’ Every year, thousands of college students flood beaches searching for the wild, party atmosphere during Spring Break season. I myself chose the loud, crowded beaches of Port Aransas, Texas as the place to spend previous Spring Breaks with friends. There’s just something about the coast that encourages us to gather.
Along with recreational value comes tradition and feelings of nostalgia. Annually, families from all over the U.S choose coasts as their vacation destination. According to AAA’s 2019 travel survey 100 million families take vacations every year. As a child, the only time I was able to see the ocean was when my family would take the long trip down from Dallas to Galveston or Corpus Christi. I cherish those memories of building sandcastles and running from seagulls. Just thinking of the sea brings back the salty smell and the roar of crashing waves. This excitement of visiting coastal waters can be influenced by generations of families creating fond memories at the beach.
We pass down our experiences like heirlooms, so that our children may cherish their time near the sea as well.
For me, the coast has a much deeper value than traditional economic numbers often attributed to it. The sentimental and emotional values are strong, and it is these that are difficult to measure with numbers. However, scientists have created tools to do so, which managers, policymakers, and many others can use to help with coastal planning and other decisions. In fact, the HRI Socio-Economics Group that I intern with created a database that makes it easier for people to find and use ecosystem valuation information. Check it out at bluevalue.org. In the meantime, you can find me at the beach, enjoying everything the coast has to offer.