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30 Years of Protecting Oceans and Coasts

Release Date: 1/13/2003
Contact Information: Bonnie Lomax, (215) 814-5542 & Bonnie Smith, (215) 814-5543

Bonnie Lomax, (215) 814-5542 & Bonnie Smith, (215) 814-5543

PHILADELPHIA – In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and the Year of Clean Water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated January 2003 as Coastal and Oceans Month.

“For many people in the mid-Atlantic region, a day at the beach is still months away, but EPA protects America's water year-round,” said Donald S. Welsh, mid-Atlantic regional administrator.

Our coastal waters are priceless resources, providing recreation and enjoyment for millions of people. More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the coasts. Additionally, an estimated 180 million Americans visit U.S. coastal areas each year, spending more than $600 billion. One out of every six jobs in the U.S. is marine-related, generating $54 billion in goods and services annually.

Coastal waters provide some of the most diverse and biologically productive habitats on the planet, supporting 66 percent of all U.S. commercial and recreational fishing and 45 percent of all protected species.

Over the past 30 years, our nation has succeeded in fighting back some of the most blatant threats to America's waters. The dumping of dredged materials, municipal and industrial discharges, and some discharges from vessels are now regulated. These measures have helped to reduce harm to coastal environments and to people who use them. EPA is committed to the continued protection of these resources and is working in partnership with state and local governments and organizations to ensure that they continue to be safe and enjoyable to all. EPA is a member of various task forces addressing coastal issues and there are partnership efforts in place that focus on marine debris, invasive species, and other coastal watershed issues.

In the mid-Atlantic region, EPA monitors the health of coastal waters. Teams of scientists sample from ships along the coast. Surveillance planes monitor coastal waters from overhead, looking for oil slicks and debris and counting whales, dolphins, sea-turtles.

While trash, cans, bottles, and cigarette butts are obvious types of pollution, the most risk comes from things that are not so visible: bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing microorganisms. Coastal pollution comes from a wider range of sources. What happens in a community miles away from the coast will effect the quality of water at beaches? In fact, a major source of polluted runoff is rainwater that picks up contaminants from lawns, farms, streets, and construction sites. Sewage overflows, malfunctioning sewage treatment plants and failing septic systems also present significant problems of excess nutrients.

The best source of information on the quality of the water at your favorite beach is your local public health or state environmental office. These state and local agencies can provide the most current available information. EPA’s website at contains more information, including a list of state and local agencies that monitor beaches and report data to EPA.

The greatest gains will come from voluntary public efforts made each day. Simple activities like picking up trash and pet waste, recycling used motor oil, disposing of household chemicals properly, and fixing oil leaks in automobiles can have an enormous impact on the quality of beach waters. Conserving water, minimizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and disposing of wastes properly are all things that everyone can do to help protect our coasts.

Even though beach season is still a few months off, it takes everyone working together, 365 days a year to protect our treasured coastal waters. To learn more about the mid-Atlantic coastal environment and EPA’s activities, access EPA’s regional website at Also, visit our exhibit at the Public Information Center of EPA’s Philadelphia regional office, 1650 Arch Street, during the month of January.