Coastal Population Report

Credit: NOAA

In ocean education, it’s often a challenge to convey how humans and the ocean are connected. One good place to start is where people live. By highlighting how many people live at or near the coast, the potential impact the ocean and humans have on each other becomes significant, and a stronger case for relevance can be made.

NOAA and the U.S. Census recently released the National Coastal Population Report which analyzes population trends in coastal counties over the past 40 years, and includes forecasts for 2020.

In 2010, 39% of the U.S. population lived in coastal “shoreline” counties, comprising less than 10% of the land area of the continental United States. Over half of the U.S. population (52%) lives in counties whose watersheds drain directly to the cost, comprising 20% of the U.S.

The full report features a number of additional tables and graphs. Here are a few of my favorite highlights:

  • Population growth in shoreline counties is slower than the national average (39% vs. 52%). Apparently, the deserts of Arizona and Texas and the woods of North Carolina have had more appeal in recent years than the coast. (The low cost of housing in these areas compared with the high cost on the coast is most likely to blame.)
  • Shoreline counties have slightly higher percentages of people with Bachelor’s degrees and higher, as well as households making over $75,000, than inland counties.
  • New Jersey has the 4th highest number of seasonal housing units in shoreline counties, following Florida (no suprise there), Michigan (thanks to the Great Lakes) and New York.
  • However, Maine has the highest percentage of seasonal housing units, followed by the Carolinas and Minnesota.
  • New Jersey ranks 4th in population and 5th in population density when only shoreline counties are taken into account. This reflects the fact that while most of NJ is coastal, other states like Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts (which have lower overall densities) have populations concentrated in their coastal towns.

If you’re an educator, this report might be a useful starting point for fostering discussions on the relation between humans and the ocean. Overall, the report is quite accessible with a good variety of clear graphs and maps. It also eschews lengthly analyses, leaving the interpretation to the reader, while providing some helpful highlights in the sidebars.