1. An extensive area of sand or pebbles along a shore of an ocean, sea, lake, or river. 2. The part of a seashore between the high- and low-water marks. 3. An area of sandy or pebbly land where people go to swim and enjoy the sunshine. 4. A resort or vacation spot along a shoreline. 5. A place where people swim, sunbathe, and play games.
Beach is both a geographical term and a verb meaning to run or haul ashore. Historically, beaches were often sandy or pebbly places where people could swim and enjoy the sunshine. Today, however, the word beach is also used to describe a town or vacation spot along a shoreline. The sand or pebbles that form a beach can be composed of many different materials. Beaches are always changing, accreting or moving material at a rate that is determined by factors such as wind and tide.
Sand is continually deposited on beaches, but it can also be removed from beaches at a rate that is determined by the same factors. Beach erosion occurs at a slower rate than accretion, but it is important for the ecological function of beaches. Beaches provide habitat for marine organisms and support fishing and shellfish industries. Beaches also contribute to the movement of water, sediment, and nutrients in ocean systems.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, beaches became popular destinations for recreation and relaxation. They were seen as places for people to escape the hectic pace of city life and to enjoy a more “natural” environment. They offered opportunities for introspection and self-awareness. In the United States, the construction of inexpensive mass transit systems and the development of roads made it possible for urban working-class people to spend a day or more at the beach.
As the ocean waves eroded the sediment in the beach, they formed sand bars and sandbars, which are usually located at an elevation above the high-water mark of a big storm. These beach ridges and terrace surfaces, with their steep slopes and low-tide terraces, are inclined seaward.
The size of the particles that make up a beach’s sediment is another factor that determines the characteristics of a beach. Beaches with little wave energy tend to have finer sand, while those with a lot of wave activity have coarser and more gravel-like sediments. In addition, the weight of some minerals, such as magnetite and pyrite, may influence the composition of beach sand.
While the beach provides recreational and economic benefits, it can also pose environmental problems. For example, beaches can become polluted when human waste is washed ashore. Beaches can also become closed when outbreaks of fecal coliform bacteria occur. In the United States, sewage runoff is the leading cause of bacterial beach closures. This problem is especially serious in urban areas. Beaches that have been contaminated by sewage and other contaminants are sometimes closed to swimmers for months at a time. In addition, chemicals and toxic algae that wash ashore can pollute the water and spoil a beach’s beauty.