A beach is a narrow, gently sloping strip of land that lies along the edge of an ocean or a lake.


Pre-K, 3 - 12+


Biology, Ecology, Earth Science, Geology, Oceanography, Geography, Physical Geography

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A beach is a narrow strip of land that lies along the edge of an ocean, lake, or river. Materials such as sand, pebbles, rocks, and seashell fragments cover beaches.

Beaches are created as wind and waves crush rocks and other materials into tiny sand grains. This process is called erosion. Beaches are always changing, because wind and waves are always picking up sand from one place and leaving it in another.

Types of Beaches

There are many different kinds of beaches.

Sandy beaches: Beach sand can come from many different places. Some sand may come from underwater rocks. Other sand may come from nearby cliffs. Pensacola Beach, Florida, has white, sandy beaches. Most of this white sand comes all the way from the Appalachian Mountains, hundreds of kilometers away.

Rocky beaches: Some beaches are not sandy at all. They are covered with flat rocks called shingles or rounded rocks called cobbles. A storm beach is a type of shingle beach that is often hit by heavy storms.

Barrier beaches: Barrier beaches protect the inland area, where most people live and work, from powerful ocean waves.

River beaches: Beaches near rivers are often muddy or soft. Soil and sediment from the river is carried to the river’s mouth, where it empties into the ocean or lake.

Beach Colors

Beaches can be many different colors. Coral beaches, common on warm, tropical islands, are white and powdery. They are made from the skeletons of tiny animals called corals. Some coral beaches have pink sand. The corals that created these beaches were red.

Some islands created by volcanoes have black beaches. The sand on Punaluu Beach, Hawaii, is was created as black lava hardened in the ocean.

Some beaches are green. The sand on these beaches is made of a mineral called olivine.

Threats to Beaches

Beaches are often in danger due to coastal erosion, sea level rise, and pollution.

Coastal erosion is the natural process of the beach moving due to waves, storms, and wind.

Sea level rise is the rising level of the ocean. If the sea level rises enough, some beaches sink underwater.

Pollution is the build-up of garbage and waste. Waves wash up garbage from the ocean, while drainage pipes or rivers deposit waste from inland areas.

Reducing pollution is an important way to protect beaches. Beachgoers and should always put their trash in a garbage or recycling bin. This protects the beach and the ocean. Even people living far from the beach should not throw garbage into a local stream or street. Eventually, that garbage can also end up on a beach . . or closer to home!

Fast Fact

Beach Art: Sand Castles And Sculptures
Have you ever visited a beach during a sand-sculpture contest? Sand artists can carve sculptures more than a meter (3 feet) high. Sand art is for much more than castles. In 2008, sculptors in Dorset, England, built the world's only sand hotel. This structure was complete with two beds, a couch, night stands, and a grand entrance, all made of sand. The hotel lasted until the next rainstorm.

Fast Fact

Best Beaches
Environmental scientist Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman is known as Dr. Beach. Every year, Dr. Beach makes a list of the top 10 beaches in the United States. Dr. Beach judges beaches based on 50 criteria, including sand softness, wind speed, water temperature, presence of runoff, public safety, rip currents, and pollution. Read about Dr. Beach and the science of beaches here.

Dr. Beachs Top 10 for 2012:
1. Coronado Beach, California
2. Kahanamoku Beach,Hawaii
3. East Hampton, New York
4. St. George Island State Park, Florida
5. Hamoa Beach, Hawaii
6. Coast Guard Beach, Massachusetts
7. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Hawaii
8. Cape Florida State Park, Florida
9. Beachwalker Park, South Carolina
10. Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

Fast Fact

Fossil Beach
A fossil beach may not be a beach at all. Fossil beaches are ancient coastlines, millions of years old, that have been preserved because of a change in sea level. Fossils of ancient animals, plants, and algae may be excavated dozens or even hundreds of kilometers inland, on the shore of an ancient sea that has since dried up.

One of the most famous fossil beaches, however, is still a beach. The so-called Jurassic Coast, in southwestern Great Britain, has thousands of fossils of ancient plants, fish, insects, and reptiles.

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Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

February 13, 2024

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