Maritime beaches and dunes provide important nesting ground for birds such as piping plover, least tern, common tern, and roseate tern.
There are an estimated 1000 miles of maritime beach on Long Island covering about 10,000 to 16,000 acres; there may be more than 30 to 50 extant occurrences statewide. The several documented occurrences of this community have good viability and are protected on public or private conservation land. The community is restricted to the ocean shoreline of the Coastal Lowlands ecozone in Suffolk, Richmond, Queens, Kings, and Nassau Counties. Although the number of maritime beaches may have increased slightly when formerly long, continuous examples were fragmented by development, the overall trend for the community is declining as a result of coastal development and recreational overuse. Sea level rise may result in permanent flooding of some occurrences, especially in areas where barriers prevent the migration of beaches inland.
The number and acreage of maritime beaches have likely declined in recent decades, because beach development occurs above mean high tide in the maritime beach and dune areas. However, beach viability/ecological integrity is suspected to be slowly declining, primarily due to anthropogenic alterations (both physical and hydrological) to beach/dune/swale dynamics and coastal development (e.g., fragmentation, shoreline hardening, road construction, and community destruction).
Although the number of maritime beaches in New York may have increased substantially from historical numbers when formerly long, continuous examples were fragmented by development into numerous large and small stretches of beach, their aerial extent and viability are suspected to have declined substantially over the long-term. These declines are likely correlated with coastal development and associated changes in connectivity, hydrology, water quality, and natural processes.
Threats to maritime beaches in New York include driving on the beach (ATVs and four-wheel drive vehicles), fragmentation by development, barriers to connectivity between the open ocean and the beach/dune system, trampling, increased horseback riding, trash, and invasion by exotic species, including winged pigweed (Cycloloma atriplicifolium) and Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata). Processes that create and maintain maritime beaches have been disrupted by hydrologic alterations to tidal dynamics, fragmentation, shoreline hardening, altered sediment budgets, and management practices like beach replenishment. Sea level rise may result in permanent flooding of some occurrences, especially in areas where barriers prevent the migration of beaches inland.
Maintain dynamic beach and dune processes, prevent recreational overuse (driving on the beach is particularly destructive) and encourage the public to carry away all of their trash. Monitor rare plant and animal populations, including seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus) and beach-dune tiger beetle (Cicindela hirticollis), and the nesting use of beaches by species such as the horseshoe crab and the piping plover. Take measures (e.g., install fencing and predator exclosures) to prevent disturbance to critical areas. Ensure connectivity between maritime dunes, maritime beaches, salt marshes, and the open ocean to allow seed dispersal and to enable species to freely move between habitats during nesting season. Remove shoreline armoring to increase overland sediment input; improve water quality by reducing or eliminating sewer and stormwater discharge and pesticide application; restore tidal regime by removing culverts, dikes, and impoundments, plugging ditches, and replacing static flow restriction devices with those that are calibrated for local tidal hydrology.
Minimize or eliminate hardened shoreline and avoid dumping dredge spoil onto maritime beaches. This community is best protected as part of a large salt marsh complex. Protected areas should encompass the full mosaic of low salt marsh, high salt marsh, marine intertidal mudflats, saltwater tidal creek, salt panne, and salt shrub communities to allow dynamic ecological processes (sedimentation, erosion, tidal flushing, and nutrient cycling) to continue. Connectivity to estuarine, brackish, and freshwater tidal communities; upland dunes; and shallow offshore communities should be maintained. Connectivity between these habitats is important not only for nutrient flow and seed dispersal, but also for animals that move between them seasonally. Similarly, fragmentation of linear beaches should be avoided. Bisecting roads and developments significantly disrupt biota and alter physical dune processes.
Surveys and documentation of additional occurrences are needed, as are data on rare and characteristic animals.
Future research on maritime beaches should include monitoring community response to sea level rise, sediment starvation, and permanent flooding and studying nutrient exchange processes and relationships to adjacent communities (e.g., salt marsh complexes and maritime dunes).
This community is restricted to the ocean shoreline of the Coastal Lowlands ecozone in Suffolk, Richmond, Queens, Kings, and Nassau Counties.
This community ranges along the Atlantic Coast from southern Maine to North Carolina (NatureServe 2009).
A community with extremely sparse vegetation that occurs on unstable sand, gravel, or cobble ocean shores above mean high tide, where the shore is modified by storm waves and wind erosion. The upper margin of a maritime beach often grades into the base of a primary maritime dune, or other maritime community, such as maritime shrubland or one of the maritime forests.
Characteristic species include beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata), sea-rocket (Cakile edentula ssp. edentula), seaside atriplex (Atriplex patula), seabeach atriplex (A. arenaria), seabeach sandwort (Honckenya peploides), salsola (Salsola kali), seaside spurge (Chamaesyce polygonifolia), seabeach knotweed (Polygonum glaucum), and seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus).
Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between -1 feet and 32 feet.
Maritime beaches are scenic year-round! Enjoy a visit in the middle of the summer when the ocean is warm for swimming.
This New York natural community encompasses all or part of the concept of the following International Vegetation Classification (IVC) natural community associations. These are often described at finer resolution than New York's natural communities. The IVC is developed and maintained by NatureServe.
This New York natural community falls into the following ecological system(s). Ecological systems are often described at a coarser resolution than New York's natural communities and tend to represent clusters of associations found in similar environments. The ecological systems project is developed and maintained by NatureServe.
Amaranthus pumilus (sea-beach amaranth, coast amaranth)
Ammophila breviligulata ssp. breviligulata
Anaphalis margaritacea (pearly everlasting)
Atriplex patula (spear orach)
Datura stramonium (Jimsonweed, common thorn-apple)
Oenothera biennis (common evening-primrose)
Polygonum glaucum (sea-beach knotweed)
Solidago sempervirens (northern seaside goldenrod)
This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Maritime Beach. Each bar represents the amount of "coverage" for all the species growing at that height. Because layers overlap (shrubs may grow under trees, for example), the shaded regions can add up to more than 100%.
Art, H. W. 1976. Ecological studies of the Sunken Forest, Fire Island National Seashore, New York. National Park Service Scientific Monograph Series No. 7, Publication No. NPS 123. 237 pp.
Edinger, G. J., D. J. Evans, S. Gebauer, T. G. Howard, D. M. Hunt, and A. M. Olivero (editors). 2014. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke’s Ecological Communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY. https://www.nynhp.org/ecological-communities/
Edinger, Gregory J., D.J. Evans, Shane Gebauer, Timothy G. Howard, David M. Hunt, and Adele M. Olivero (editors). 2002. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke's Ecological Communities of New York State. (Draft for review). New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 136 pp.
Johnson, Anne F. 1985. A guide to the plant communities of the Napeague dunes Long Island, New York. Mad Printers, Mattituck, New York. 58 pp.
NatureServe. 2009. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. (Data last updated July 17, 2009)
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.
Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.
Schlesinger, M.D., E.L. White, S.M. Young, G.J. Edinger, K.A. Perkins, N. Schoppmann, and D. Parry. 2016. Biodiversity Inventory of Plum Island, New York. New York Natural Heritage Program, Albany, New York, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY.
Significant Habitat Unit. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. No date. Significant Habitat data.
This guide was authored by: Aissa Feldmann
Information for this guide was last updated on: May 15, 2020
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Maritime beach. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/maritime-beach/. Accessed March 31, 2023.