A 5-state survey of coastal community residents (New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia)
This project was partially funded through a federal grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In March 2009, the governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia initiated an effort to develop an interstate agreement on ocean and coastal management for the Mid-Atlantic region. The governors acknowledged that this regional approach “must address the important role of humans within those systems.”
Monmouth University, through the initiative and interdisciplinary resources of its Urban Coast Institute and Polling Institute, conducted a public opinion survey of coastal residents in the Mid-Atlantic region in April 2009. This current effort is a follow-up to a benchmark Mid-Atlantic coastal community survey conducted in 2007. Monmouth University is pleased to be able to contribute to this important dialogue by providing data on the human role in coastal and ocean management – data that is available from no other source.
The sample for this study was divided into eight coastal regions: New York East (Suffolk county), New York West (Nassau county), New Jersey North (Monmouth and Ocean counties), New Jersey South (Atlantic and Cape May counties), Delaware (Sussex county), Maryland (Worcester county), Virginia North (Accomack and Northampton counties) and Virginia South (Virginia Beach). A total of 1,006 permanent residents of coastal towns were interviewed by telephone in April 2009. The survey results have a ±3.1% margin of error.
– Coastal Community Life –
The coast and ocean are an integral part of Mid-Atlantic coastal community residents’ lives.
- Nearly all residents spend time on the beach or swimming in their local waters (90%), and about half regularly go fishing, crabbing, and clamming (51%) or boating (50%).
Most residents recognize the impact their daily activities can have on the coast and ocean environment.
- About half (49%) of Mid-Atlantic residents say that emptying motorboat toilet waste directly into the ocean poses a serious risk to water quality.
- Two-thirds of residents understand that storm run-off flows directly into water sources rather than being filtered at a treatment plant.
- In general, 7-in-10 residents say that the daily activities of people like them affect the quality of their coastal environment, including 28% who say these individual actions can have a great deal of impact.
– Community Issues and Coastal Awareness –
The vast majority of Mid-Atlantic coastal residents say that protecting the coast should be a high priority for their town, although this competes with other priorities in some states. Among specific environmental issues in their communities, pollution and beach erosion top the list.
- Fully 3-in-4 residents say that protecting the coastal environment (76%) should be a high priority for their town. This is somewhat larger than the number who would give a high priority to improving the economy (69%), lowering taxes (65%), improving education (64%), or controlling growth (56%).
- Nearly 9-in-10 Mid-Atlantic coastal residents say that the condition of the ocean and beaches is very important to their area’s economy.
- A majority of Mid-Atlantic coastal residents are very concerned about water pollution (57%), beach erosion (56%), and shoreline pollution (53%) in their towns. Just under half are seriously concerned about coastal development (47%) and habitat loss (47%), and 4-in-10 are very concerned about storm risk from sea level rise (41%).
Most residents have some, although not a great deal of knowledge about coastal and ocean issues in their local community and the impact that local environmental issues can have along the entire length of the Mid-Atlantic coast.
- One-in-four Mid-Atlantic coastal residents (27%) say they know a great deal about coastal environmental issues in their local area. Another 48% have some knowledge.
- Two-thirds acknowledge that coastal issues in their own area can have an impact on the entire Mid-Atlantic region, including 32% who say this can have a great deal of impact and 37% who say local coastal issues can have some impact across the region.
– Coastal Policy –
Mid-Atlantic coastal residents tend to give the government poor marks on protecting the environment. But they say they are willing to pay more in taxes in order to protect coastal waters, shorelines and beaches.
- About half (49%) of Mid-Atlantic residents say the current level of effort put into protecting both local coastal waters and beaches is about right, while another 39% say there is not enough effort.
- Six-in-ten residents (61%) say they would support greater efforts to protect their local coasts even if it required tax increases. Only 28% oppose this.
- Less than half of Mid-Atlantic coastal residents say government has done a good job protecting coastal habitats (46%) and maintaining clean water (45%). About 3-in-10 say it has done a good job managing marine life (35%), protecting coastal property from storm damage (33%), and managing coastal development (29%).
Most Mid-Atlantic coastal community residents are convinced that coastal areas will be at a greater risk for flooding and damage from sea level rise in the next 25 years, although they are split on whether the primary cause of sea level rise has been human activity or natural changes in the environment. In general, residents support the use of a number of measures to reduce the risk from sea level rise, but they draw the line at measures which may interfere with the rights of current property owners. There are some differences of opinion over who should pay most of the cost for reducing coastal hazards.
- Half (51%) of coastal residents say that reports of the risks of future sea level rise are generally accurate while another 10% say they have been underestimated. On the other hand, one-third (34%) feel that such risks have been exaggerated, which is up slightly from the 1-in-4 who said the same in 2007.
- More residents feel that sea level rise has been caused largely by natural changes (47%) in the environment rather than by the effects of human activities (38%), while 10% say that both have contributed equally.
- Large majorities support a variety of measures for reducing storm damage risk, including public purchase of existing open space (80%), building hard retaining structures (65%), and preventing new construction in high risk areas (65%). They also feel that beaches that are washed away by storms should be replenished (65%). However, residents are much less supportive of government purchasing private homes in high risk areas (28%).
- Just under half (45%) of Mid-Atlantic coastal residents say that government should pay most of the costs for projects to reduce coastal hazards, 33% say the burden should mainly be carried by coastal property owners, and 16% say that both government and property owners should share the costs equally.
In terms of using the oceans for energy production, a majority support placing wind farms off their local coast, even if the windmills are visible from the shoreline. On the other hand, opinion is divided over drilling for oil or gas in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. However, resident support for each of these ocean energy resource options has increased in the past two years.
- Specifically, 82% of residents say that they would support placing energy-generating windmills beyond the horizon and 67% would support wind farms that can be seen from the shore.
- On the question of drilling for oil or gas, 46% of coastal residents now support this – up from 33% in 2007 – compared to 37% who are opposed and 12% who have no opinion.
– State-Level Findings –
Competing public priorities in each of the Mid-Atlantic states can have a decided impact on the ability to implement a regional approach to coastal and ocean management. The survey identified some differences in how protecting the coast and ocean ranks among common community issues, as well as which environmental issues are of greater concern:
New York : Protecting the coast and ocean is a high priority for 82% of coastal residents in this state, outpacing taxes (70%), the economy and jobs (69%), education (65%), and controlling development (59%). All are high priorities for most coastal New York residents, but not as widespread a concern as coastal and ocean management.
In eastern New York, beach erosion (65%) is the most serious concern among the six coastal and ocean environmental issues asked about in the survey. About half name the other issues – water pollution (53%), shore pollution (50%), habitat loss (49%), coastal development (48%), and sea level rise (48%) – as very serious concerns in their area. In western New York, water pollution (64%), shore pollution (58%), and beach erosion (61%) are about equally as likely to be identified as the top concern, while half are very concerned about sea level rise (50%) and 4-in-10 say the same about habitat loss (40%) and coastal development (40%).
New Jersey : While coastal and ocean protection is nominally the top priority for residents statewide, there are some variations within New Jersey. For residents of the northern coast, taxes (71%), the economy and jobs (70%), and coastal and ocean protection (69%) are equally as likely to be named as a top priority, with education (65%) and controlling development (60%) close behind. Along the southern coast of New Jersey, though, protecting the coast and ocean (78%) is the most widespread concern, followed by taxes (68%) and the economy and jobs (66%), with education (59%) and controlling development (53%) rounding out the list of high priorities.
Water pollution (64%) and shore pollution (63%) are the top environmental concerns in northern New Jersey, while half are very concerned about beach erosion (53%), coastal development (52%), and habitat loss (50%), but only one-third feel the same about sea level rise (32%). In southern New Jersey, beach erosion (62%) and water pollution (57%) are top concerns, while about half are very concerned about shore pollution (50%), coastal development (47%), habitat loss (47%), and sea level rise (45%).
Delaware : Protecting the coast and ocean is a high priority for 82% of coastal Delaware residents. In the next tier of concern are controlling development (68%), the economy and jobs (66%), and education (62%). Only 4-in-10 (42%) Delaware residents say lowering taxes is a high priority.
Beach erosion (65%) leads the list of environmental concerns among coastal Delaware residents, with more than half saying they are very concerned about habitat loss (59%), coastal development (56%), and water pollution (52%). Fewer than 4-in-10 are very concerned about sea level rise (39%) and shore pollution (37%).
Maryland : Protecting the coast and ocean (75%) is basically tied with improving the economy and creating jobs (73%) as the highest priority for coastal Maryland residents. These priorities are followed by taxes (65%), controlling development (56%) and education (51%).
For coastal Maryland residents, shore pollution (60%) is the top concern, with about half saying they are very concerned about water pollution (50%), coastal development (49%), beach erosion (48%), and habitat loss (48%). Fewer than 4-in-10 feel the same amount of concern over sea level rise (37%).
Virginia : Protecting the coast and ocean competes with other concerns as a top priority, with differences seen between the northern peninsula and Virginia Beach. Along the Delmarva part of the Virginia coast, most residents name improving the economy and creating jobs (81%) as a high priority, closely followed by education (75%). Protecting the coast and ocean follows these at 69%. About half of northern coastal Virginia residents say controlling development (52%) and lowering taxes (48%) are high priorities. In southern coastal Virginia, protecting the coast and ocean (76%) ties with education (76%) as the top priority, followed by the economy and jobs (66%). Fewer than half say the same about taxes (47%) and controlling development (45%).
Residents of the northern Virginia coast tend to be less concerned about any of these environmental issues than any other Mid-Atlantic coast residents, with about 4-in-10 or fewer expressing very serious concerns about habitat loss (42%), water pollution (39%), shore pollution (39%), beach erosion (37%), coastal development (36%), and sea level rise (36%). Southern coastal Virginia residents are most concerned with water pollution (52%) and habitat loss (50%), while 4-in-10 are very concerned with coastal development (44%), shore pollution (41%), and beach erosion (40%), while only 3-in-10 say the same about sea level rise (32%).
Other regional differences found in the survey include:
- Residents of coastal Maryland (42%) and Delaware (39%) are more likely to say they have a great deal of knowledge about local coastal issues when compared to residents of coastal New York (25%), New Jersey (26%), and Virginia (25%).
- Those who say local coastal issues have a great deal of impact on other states in the Mid-Atlantic region ranges from 41% in Maryland and 38% in Delaware to 34% in Virginia, 33% in New Jersey, and 29% in New York.
- In general, residents of coastal Maryland, southern New Jersey, and southern Virginia tend to be more positive about government efforts to protect coastal and ocean environments, while those in northern New Jersey, northern Virginia, and Delaware hold a relatively less positive opinion. Residents of coastal New York tend to mirror the average Mid-Atlantic opinion.
- Residents of eastern New York (45%) are less supportive of efforts to build seawalls, jetties and other hard structures, whereas Maryland (52%) and northern Virginia (50%) coastal residents are somewhat less supportive of restrictions on new development in high risk areas.
- Western New Yorkers (57%) are the most likely to say that government should pay most of the costs for projects to reduce coastal hazards, whereas residents of southern Virginia (51%) are the most likely to say that coastal property owners should shoulder the primary responsibility. Residents of coastal Delaware are the most divided on who should pay the costs of these projects.
- A majority in each of the survey regions favor placing wind farms within sight of the shoreline, although the level of support varies from 82% in Delaware and 76% in northern Virginia to 53% in southern Virginia. Support stands at about 2-in-3 residents in Maryland (70%), New Jersey (69%), and New York (63%).
- A majority of residents in coastal Maryland (65%), Delaware (52%), and New Jersey (51%) support drilling for oil in the Atlantic Ocean, while fewer Virginia (42%) and New York (37%) coastal residents share that view.
The questions referred to in this report are as follows:
A. LIVING ON THE COAST
A1. Do you own or rent this apartment or house?
A2. Is this home a waterfront property right on the beach or bay, within a few blocks of the beach or bay, within one mile, within five miles, or farther away?
A3. How much of the year do you live in this home – 10 to 12 months, 6 to 9 months, or less than 6 months?
A4. How many years have you lived in this town, or have you lived here all your life?
B. COASTAL COMMUNITY ISSUES
B1. Here are some issues that your town may have to deal with. After I read each one, please tell me whether it should be a high, medium, or low priority.
A. Improving public education
B. Controlling growth and development
C. Lowering taxes
D. Protecting the coastal and ocean environment
E. Improving the local economy and creating jobs
B2. How much do you feel you know about coastal environment issues in your local area – a great deal, some, just a little, or nothing at all?
B3. Do you think current efforts to protect coastal waters and beaches in your local area are too much, too little, or about right?
B4. How important is the condition of the ocean and beaches to the economy in your area — very, somewhat, not too, or not at all important?
B5. In general, how much of an impact do the daily activities of people like you have on the coastal environment in your area – a great deal, some, just a little, or nothing at all?
B6. Please tell me if you think each of the following is a very serious, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not at all serious concern in your area?
A. Coastal and ocean water pollution
B. The loss of wetlands and coastal habitats
C. Sea level rise and increasing risk from storms
D. The amount of development along the coast
E. Beach erosion
F. Pollution along the beaches and shoreline
B7. How much do you think what happens along your local coast affects what happens along the coast of [READ IN NAME OF ADJACENT STATE(S)] – a great deal, some, just a little, or nothing at all?
C. COASTAL POLICY
C1. How good a job is government doing at each of the following. Please respond with excellent, good, only fair, poor, or tell me if you don’t have an opinion on this.
A. Keeping coastal and ocean waters clean
B. Managing fish and other marine life
C. Protecting coastal wetlands and wildlife habitats
D. Protecting coastal property from storm damage
E. Managing growth and development in coastal communities
C2. Would you support or oppose efforts to protect the coastal waters, shoreline, and beaches in your town if it meant you would have to pay more in local taxes?
C3. In general, when beaches are washed away from a storm, should they be replenished with new sand or should they be left as is?
C4. I’m going to read you some possible ways to preserve coastal habitats and reduce storm damage. Please tell me whether you would support or oppose these efforts in your local area.
A. Building bulkheads, jetties, seawalls and other hard structures
B. Public purchase of existing natural coastal areas for preservation
C. Public purchase of private homes located in high risk areas
D. Prevent any new construction or development in high flood risk areas
C5. Who should pay for most of the cost for projects designed to reduce damage from storms and other coastal hazards – government OR coastal property owners?
C6. Some reports predict that sea levels will rise substantially in the next 25 years and that many coastal areas will be in much greater risk from storm damage and flooding. Based on what you have heard, do you think that this risk is generally accurate, generally exaggerated, or generally underestimated?
C7 And from what you have read or heard, do you believe changes in sea levels over the past 25 years are due more to the effects of human activities or more to natural changes in the environment?
Some people have proposed using coastal resources to help meet our energy needs.
C8. Would you support or oppose placing electricity-generating windmills off your coast as long as they are NOT visible from the shoreline, or do you have no opinion either way?
C9. And would you support or oppose placing these windmills off your coast if you could see them in the distance, or do you have no opinion either way?
C10. Would you support or oppose drilling for oil or gas in the ocean off the Atlantic coast, or do you have no opinion either way?
D. PERSONAL BEHAVIORS
D1. Have you done any of the following activities within five miles of your home in the past
A. Gone fishing, crabbing or clamming
B. Taken a boat, canoe, kayak or jet-ski out for pleasure
C. Gone swimming or sunbathing, or walked along the shoreyear, or not?
D2. Do you have any type of yard, lawn or garden at this home? If YES: Have you used any fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals on your lawn, yard or garden in the past year?
D3. What do you think happens to the rainwater run-off that goes down storm drains in your neighborhood – Does it get cleaned or filtered in a treatment plant or does it flow directly into lakes, streams or the ocean?
D4. Do you own a boat with a motor? IF YES: Does the boat have a toilet facility?
D5. Do you think emptying toilet waste from boats directly into the ocean poses a serious risk, a moderate risk, or very little risk to overall water quality or not?
Now just a few final questions so we can classify your answers —
E1. What was the last grade in school you completed?
E2. What was your age on your last birthday?
E3. How many people live in your household, including yourself?
E3A. How many are children under the age of 18?
E4. Are you of Latino or Hispanic origin?
E5. Are you white, black or of Asian origin?
E6. So that we can group all answers, is your total annual family income before taxes: Under $50,000; from $50,000 to just under $100,000; from $100,000 to just under $150,000; or $150,000 or more?
E7. Respondent gender?
E8. Regional Distribution (weighted)
Click on pdf file link below for full report including methodology and results by key demographic groups.