Everything You Want to Know About Beaches
Beaches are your typical vacation spots where people enjoy relaxation and laid-back fun. Beachgoers use their time to work on their tans, play sand volleyball and build sandcastles.
But have you ever thought about a beach's history? About its geography? The people who founded it? Maybe if someone famous skinny-dipped there? Packed with knowledge about how beaches came to be and what their futures look like, a trip to the sandy shore takes on a whole new meaning.
These fascinating facts about beaches prove there's more to learn about the world's coastlines than meets the eye. Just like no two grains of sand are the same, you better believe each beach is an original. And we love them for that.
Casino Beach Is the Longest Beach in the World
Estimated to be between 132 and 152 miles long, Casino Beach — also known by the Portuguese name Praia do Cassino — is the longest uninterrupted stretch of beach in the world. Located in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, the beach is so long, it runs down the southernmost coastline of Brazil just before reaching Uruguay.
Beaches in Brazil are known for their white sands and warm waters. Because of this, surfing is a popular water sport, drawing both locals and tourists to the beaches. The best time for travelers to visit Casino Beach is actually during Brazil’s summer months of December to February.
The World's Largest Sand Island Is Fraser Island
The largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island, is located in Queensland, Australia, 161 miles northeast of Brisbane. It is a World Heritage Site that was formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity that caused sand to deposit over hilly terrain. North of Eli Creek, the sands on Fraser Island are made of 72 different colors that are the result of the leaching of oxides that coat each grain of sand in hues like red and yellow.
Fraser Island stretches more than 75 miles and offers a range of activities for visitors. With its crystal-clear water and white sand, Fraser Island welcomes tourists to swim or whale watch at Hervey Bay. There is also a rainforest, sand dunes and the Maheno shipwreck to explore. The island is the only place in the world to see centuries-old trees and rainforest growing from sand.
Anse Source d'Argent Is the Most Photographed Beach in the World
A visually stunning masterpiece, Anse Source d'Argent is said to be the most photographed beach in the world. It is located in Seychelles, which is an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean. Anse Source d'Argent is sprawled across the island of La Digue, which is only about 3-miles long.
Some of the most notable features of Anse Source d'Argent are its shimmering pink sands, large granite boulders and turquoise colored water. The ocean is sheltered by a reef and, with its shallow waters, makes it an ideal place for families with small children to enjoy water play. The water is so clear, tropical fish and other sea creatures are easily visible without the use of snorkels.
Not only is Anse Source d'Argent photographically impressive, it was also featured in the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away.”
Over 22 States in the U.S. Have Clothing-Optional Beaches
Birthday suits aren't just for celebrating birthdays. For many beachgoers, expression of self by way of nudity is the preferred way to spend time at the beach. This could explain why there are clothing-optional beaches in more than 22 states across America.
Some beaches, like Baker Beach in San Francisco and Haulover Beach in Florida, take it a step further by offering a fully nude option.
Queen Victoria Outlawed Skinny Dipping
It wasn't until 1860 when Queen Victoria outlawed nude swimming that it was even an issue. Nearly 100 years later, the "Free Beach" movement gained popularity in North America.
The American Association for Nude Recreation was started in 1931 and hosts the annual Nude Recreation Week each July to encourage nude activities throughout beaches in the United States. It is the oldest nudism organization in North America. In 1980, Lee Baxandall founded the Naturist Society after years of taking his family to Cape Cod beaches for skinny dipping.
The Tallest Sandcastle Is 57-Feet Tall
In 2011, the record for tallest sandcastle went to one that stood 37-feet, 10-inches tall. It was constructed by Ed Jarrett in Farmington, Connecticut. But in 2019, a new record was made, goes to sculpting aficionado Thomas van den Dungen, working as Skulptura Projects GmbH.
He worked with a team of 12 sculptors and eight technicians from several countries, working eight hours a day. The 57-foot creation was crowned as the world's largest sandcastle by the “Guinness Book of World Records.”
And That Sandcastle Is 130 Miles From the Beach
Interestingly enough, the tallest sandcastle isn't even located on a beach. Crafted over 3.5 weeks, this sandcastle can be found 130 miles from the closest beach in Duisburg, Germany. About 11,000 tons of sand were used and mixed with just water to create the circular diameter.
Van den Dungun had previously attempted the record twice since 2017 before completing it in June 2019. It was displayed at the Sand Sculpture Festival in Binz, Germany.
The World's First Sandcastle Hotel Was Built in Dorset, England
Believe it or not, there was once a hotel made of sand. In 2008, four sculptors in Dorset, England, used 1,000 tons of sand and worked 14-hour days for seven days to build the world's only sand hotel on Weymouth Beach.
Everything on site was made from sand, including the two beds (one double and one single). There was also a couch and nightstands but no bathroom facilities or a door. Guests were able to enjoy stargazing, thanks to the roofless structure offering a magical night-time view. The one-room sand hotel was short-lived, lasting only until the next rainstorm when everything got washed away.
There Are Four Main Types of Beaches
National Geographic writes that a beach is “a narrow, gently sloping strip of land that lies along the edge of an ocean, lake or river.” But this definition can vary, depending on factors such as weather and ocean tides.
And did you know there are actually four main types of beaches that fit into this broader description? They are barrier beaches, mainland beaches, spits and pocket beaches.
Barrier beaches are situated parallel to the shoreline, providing a barrier between the mainland and adjacent wetland such as a salt marsh or marine waters offshore. The shifting sand usually migrates toward the mainland due to rising sea levels.
There are several examples along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast, especially in North Carolina and Maine. In fact, Maine’s Ogunquit Beach, Wells Beach and Seawall Beach are all popular examples of barrier beaches.
Mainland beaches are where the land meets the sea, and they make up most of the world’s beaches.
These are your classic SoCal beaches as well as popular beaches along the Great Lakes.
Spits are similar to both in that they’re connected to the mainland on one end and water on the other. When large storms occur and cut a new inlet in the spit, a barrier island is formed.
There are several examples of spits around the world, including Spurn Point in the U.K., especially popular among bird watchers.
A pocket beach exists when exposed bedrock is nestled between rocky coastal protrusions.
These are common in New England and the Pacific Northwest.
Beach Sand Exists in a Variety of Colors
Not all beaches are alike in terms of physical appearance, and beach sand varies in color, depending on destination and local geology. Black-sand beaches are the result of volcanic rock, green-sand beaches are due to a mineral called olivine, and white-sand beaches are made from dead coral fragments that are ground up by waves.
More specifically, white-sand beaches are produced by parrotfish excrement. The fish feeds on the coral, and when the coral is broken down within the fish, the small granules (fish poop) emerge as new grains of sand that wash ashore.
Black-Sand Beaches Are Popular in Hawaii
There are two beaches in Hawaii where black volcanic sand is prevalent: Wainapanapa Beach in Hana, Maui, and Punalu'u Beach on the Big Island.
The grains of sand on these beaches are so rare that it’s illegal to remove them. And the black sand is often too hot to walk on since it absorbs sunlight, so visitors are encouraged to wear beach shoes.
There Is Also a Volcanic Beach in Iceland
Located on the south coast of Iceland is Reynisfjara Beach. But this beach is anything from icy. In fact, the black sand is due to heavily eroded volcanic rocks that have been formed from cooled lava. Most volcanic rock in Iceland is basalt, but there are more than 25 different types.
From the beach you can see the basalt rock pillars, also known as the Reynisdrangar sea stacks. According to legend, the columns are two trolls who were turned into stone while trying to drag a ship from the sea onto land.
One of the things that Reynisfjara Beach is known for is its intense waves. These waves are called sneaker waves and are incredibly dangerous. Each one is bigger and stronger than the last. Signs in the parking lot warn visitors about the waves, suggesting to maintain a good distance from the tides.
Australia Has One of the Few Shell Beaches in the World
Located in the Shark Bay region of western Australia, the aptly named Shell Beach is a natural landmark made up of millions of tiny shells, with no sand at all. It is one of just a handful of beaches in the world where shells replace sand. Shell Beach stretches nearly 75 miles along the western Australia coastline. The white shells on the beach are from a unique marine animal called the Hamelin Cockle, or the Shark Bay cockle.
The cockle lives in hyper saline water with few predators. Because there isn't a great threat to cockles, there is an abundance of the species. The lack of predators and clear blue water at Shell Beach also make for great snorkeling and swimming opportunities. A walk along the beach is also a great idea, since the sensation of the shells below your feet is like no other.
You Can Hunt For Fossils on the Jurassic Coast Beaches
The most well-known type of beach is a sand beach, although other types, like fossil beaches, do exist. In southern England, along the Jurassic Coast, there is a 95-mile stretch of fossil beaches. The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site and spans the Dorset and East Devon coastline.
Fossils found in this area date back millions of years to the Mesozoic Era and are the ancient remnants of plants, fish, insects and animals. Fossil hunting is a popular tourist pastime on the Jurassic Coast and some beaches are prime spots for finding fossils.
The Best Fossil-Hunting Advice
The beaches between Charmouth and Lyme Regis are the safest spots to find fossils; however, most fossils are difficult to find and some places do not allow fossil hunting without permission.
The best time of year to go fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast is in the winter, when the beaches are more quiet and the fossils are easier to find. The winter weather causes more erosion, exposing fossils for beginner hunters to collect.
There's a Glow in the Dark Beach in the Maldives
During his honeymoon, while traveling to Mudhdhoo Island, Taiwanese photographer William Ho captured incredible photos of a "glow in the dark" beach in the Maldives. He was staying at the luxurious Dusit Thani resort when he snapped the shots.
The luminescent effect, according to Cornell biology professor James Morin, is caused by ostracod crustaceans, also known as seed shrimp. Ostracods emit light similarly to the way phytoplankton do, but for a longer amount of time. Whereas phytoplankton emit light for about one second when there is a break in the water, ostracods can emit light for up to a minute or longer. It is believed that the thousands of glowing specks seen across the beach's sand are the result of a mass mortality of ostracods.
Iceland Has a Diamond Beach
In Iceland, there is a black-sand beach covered with chunks of ice and crystals that have washed up from the nearby Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, giving it the name Diamond Beach (Breiðamerkursandur).
The Icelandic name comes from the glacier that the icebergs break apart from: Breiðamerkurjökull. The icebergs that float in the lagoon range in color from deep blue to vibrant turquoise to bright white.
Diamond Beach’s Icebergs Vary Drastically
What attracts tourists to Diamond Beach is the beautiful contrast between the volcanic black sand, the bright shades of blue and the glistening icebergs. Each iceberg is its own unique formation, and the size of each iceberg varies. Some are as small as a coffee mug, while others are the size of a large vehicle.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is especially impressive during the winter, when the Northern Lights are shining upon the icebergs, and the glorious colors of Diamond Beach are painted across the sky and the sea.
Koekohe Beach Has Boulders That Look Like Dragon Eggs
Around 60 million years ago, the Moeraki Boulders at Koekohe Beach in New Zealand started forming due to coastal erosion. Appearing both individually and in clusters, each of these spherical stones has a diameter of 6 to 11 feet. It is estimated that it has taken 4 millions years for the boulders to reach their current size. Many people believe that these boulders look like dragon eggs, due to their size and shape.
Maori legend tells the story that the boulders are the remains of eel baskets, calabashes and kumara that were washed ashore when a canoe called the ?raiteuru wrecked. The canoe was bringing the ancestors of Ngai Tahu people to New Zealand's South Island, and the Moeraki Boulders were in it. There is also the belief that the nearby rocky peninsula is the body of the ?raiteuru's captain and that the rocks extending toward the sea are pieces of the canoe.
The Area of Beach Above the Water is Called a Berm
You've heard of beach bums, but are you familiar with beach berms? A berm is a long, narrow wedge of sand above the water, with a steep slope facing the ocean. Berms are formed as sand moves in from offshore. The presence of a berm is a sign that the beach has been gaining sand. Berms often appear after strong storms continue to move up the beach, sometimes above the normal high tide line.
Though most berms are sandy, some are covered with flat pebbles or vegetation. However, the most recognizable feature of a beach berm is its type of sand or rock. Many beaches along the coasts of the British Isles have berms with rounded rocks and shingles. One shingle beach on the southern coast of England, Hastings Beach, is popular for fishing and has been a dock for boats for more than 1,000 years.
The Oldest Public Beach in the U.S. Belongs to Massachusetts
On July 12, 1896, approximately 45,000 people in the Boston area gathered on the shores of Revere Beach to celebrate its opening as the first public beach in the U.S. Stretching 4.5 miles down the coast, Revere Beach was formed by the Metropolitan Parks Commission, which took ownership in 1895. The commission built a boulevard, public bathhouse, pavilions and a bandstand, drawing more than 250,000 visitors on many summer days. The beach was also home to some of the first amusement park attractions, like the world's fastest and largest roller coaster, The Cyclone. Some would argue that Revere's Wonderland was the model for Disney World.
After starting to deteriorate in the 1950s and later being destroyed by a 1978 New England blizzard, Revere Beach went through a renovation led by the city and state of Revere, and reopened in May of 1992. Not only did Revere Beach celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1996, nearly 900,000 people travel here each year for the Revere Sand Castle Competition.
Surfing Began in the 18th Century With Hawaiian Royalty
While not all beaches have the option for surfing, many do. Hawaiian beaches are especially known for surfing. The water sport dates back to the 18th century when Hawaiian royalty dominated the waters. Divided into two classes, royalty and commoners, the most sought-after surfing spots were reserved for those of the royal class.
In the 19th century, American missionaries who came to Hawaii expressed their disapproval of surfing, claiming that it was a waste of time and was connected to sinful behavior like gambling and nakedness. During this time, surfing became nearly nonexistent for 150 years.
The Big Kahuna Restored Surfing
It wasn't until King Kalakaua and surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku restored the sport in the 1920s and 1930s that it started to become popular again. In fact, “Duke” or “The Big Kahuna,” as he was nicknamed, earned five Olympic medals for swimming.
Modern-day surfing icon Laird Hamilton and hollow surfboard inventor Tom Blake also played, and continue to play, a prominent role in keeping surfing alive. The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu is a great place to learn more about the history of surfing.
Jacksonville Beach Was Once the Racing Capital of the World
Back in 1903, Florida's first automobile club was established. At that time, Jacksonville Beach was known as Pablo Beach, and is considered to be where racing got its start. By 1906, cars were racing up and down the beach.
In April of that year, racer Joe Lander broke a world record by driving a Thomas stock car five miles in four minutes and 55 seconds on the Atlantic-Pablo beaches course.
NASCAR Replaced Beach Racing
Races continued to grow in popularity, with many happening for years. When World War I broke out, however, racing was suspended. It wasn't until the late 1950s that NASCAR created the Daytona International Speedway.
This replaced beach racing, and in 1979, Jacksonville Beach officially banned auto driving.
The First Lifeguards Were Trained in the 1900s
In the 19th century, swimming became quite popular. Many resorts around the United States had swimming pools and offered other recreational activities that allowed people to escape the summer heat. However, this also meant that more people were drowning. The American Red Cross estimated that there were nearly 9,000 drowning deaths each year in the early 1900s.
In an attempt to address the high rate of drowning, both the YMCA and the American Red Cross developed lifesaving programs in 1912 and 1914, respectively. A swimmer named William E. Longfellow, also known as "the Amiable Whale," worked with the Red Cross by traveling the country to train and educate people on water safety. These programs trained swimmers in lifesaving techniques and CPR. Once fully trained, these swimmers were hired to work in their communities as lifeguards. Because of the work of these organizations and Longfellow, the drowning rate dropped dramatically over the next 30 years.
Today’s Lifeguards Save Hundreds of Thousands of People
Lifeguards who keep watch at beaches are also taught non-swimming rescue methods, which are especially helpful in these unconfined waters where people swim long distances.
Because of lifeguards, over 100,000 people are saved from drowning each year.
Beaches May Cease to Exist Sooner Than We Think
Even though beaches have existed since the beginning of time, many scientists believe they are not here to stay forever. Beaches were formed due to changes in sea level, and with climate change and global warming, studies indicate that sea levels are currently rising.
Rising levels and massive erosion means beaches may become uninhabitable sooner than later. In fact, somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of the world's natural sand beaches are well on their way to becoming extinct.
There Is Now a Global Beach-Quality Sand Shortage
Since sand is a vital component of many manufacturing businesses, such as those in industries like abrasives, glass, plastics and microchips, there is now a global beach-quality sand shortage.
The concrete industry is the largest consumer, using Port Washington sand from Long Island to build tunnels and sidewalks in Manhattan since the 1880s.
Sand Is the Most In-Demand Natural Element in the World
One of the world's largest cement suppliers, Cemex, still pulls sand from the shores of Monterey Bay in California, endangering several protected species through its operations.
Sand is the most in-demand natural element in the world, which makes trying to preserve beaches, as well as their flora and fauna, a nearly impossible feat.
Blue Flag Certified Beaches Are the Best
The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) operates the Blue Flag program out of Copenhagen, Denmark. Through a series of strict environmental, educational and safety-related criteria, the FEE grants beaches, marinas and private boat owners that meet the requirements the highest honor: Blue Flag Certification. Blue Flag Certified beaches are considered very clean, with good water quality and safe, secure environments.
Earning a Blue Flag Certification is especially important for recreational beaches where many families visit. Among the requirements for beaches that have a Blue Flag certification are:
- A minimum of five environmental education activities offered
- Information about bathing water quality on display
- Recycling and waste receptacles available on or near the beach
- First aid equipment available on the beach
- Safe access to the beach
Spain Has the Most Blue Flag Certified Beaches
Certificates are issued annually, with Spain holding the No. 1 spot every year since 1987. In 2019, Spain earned 660 Blue Flag certifications for its beaches, marinas and boats.
Other countries with the most Blue Flag Certified sites include Greece, France, Turkey, Italy, Portugal and Denmark. Last on the 2019 list were Serbia and South Korea, each of which have only one beach on the list.
The Biggest Threat to Beaches Is Coastal Erosion
Part of the reason scientists believe that beaches are on their way to extinction is because of coastal erosion. Influenced by weather systems, coastal erosion is a natural process where sea levels rise because of waves, storms and wind.
The most damaging conditions are caused by strong waves and high-tide storm surges. Coastal erosion is worsening on a global level, but the extent of the damage varies across the world.
How to Combat Coastal Erosion
One commonly used strategy to combat coastal erosion is by creating seawalls or other structures like groins and levees. These are large structures made from rock, plastic or concrete that prevent sand and other beach materials from drifting away.
However, some experts believe that structural solutions actually do more harm than good by preventing sand from shifting along coastlines and causing adjacent beaches to erode. Instead, they recommend trying beach nourishment. This is done by placing additional sand on a beach to serve as a buffer. Unfortunately, both of these methods can adversely affect natural resources and interfere with natural water currents. There is, sadly, no easy solution to coastal erosion.
Going to the Beach Provides Vitamin D
Decades ago, getting a dark tan from lying in the sun all day was the cool thing to do. Today, many beachgoers slap on the SPF in fear of getting any color at all. But according to some health experts, somewhere in the middle is ideal.
Vitamin D is important for our bodies because it helps absorb calcium and keeps bones strong. We can increase our vitamin D intake by spending some time in the sun. When this happens, our skin manufactures its own vitamin D.
The Ultimate Way to Protect Yourself
Of course, we still want to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays. In order to get the right amount of vitamin D, allow 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to your body from the neck down and then apply SPF 30 or higher.
Protect your face and the top of your ears with sunscreen because those are the body parts that get the most sun damage. The best time of day to hit the beach for an optimal vitamin D dose is between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.