Coastal Features and Processes—Legal Instruments

The NPS Geologic Resources Division developed this article as part of a series to summarize laws, regulations, and policies that specifically apply to NPS minerals and geologic resources. The table below does not include laws of general application (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act, or National Historic Preservation Act). Also, the table does include the NPS Organic Act when it serves as the main authority for protection of a particular resource or when other, more specific laws are not available. Information is current as of December 2023. Contact the NPS Geologic Resources Division for detailed guidance.

Coastal Features and Processes

Resource-specific Laws

NPS Organic Act, 54 USC § 100751 et. seq.

authorizes the NPS to promulgate regulations to protect park resources and values (from, for example, the exercise of mining and mineral rights).

Coastal Zone Management Act, 16 USC § 1451 et. seq.

requires Federal agencies to prepare a consistency determination for every Federal agency activity in or outside of the coastal zone that affects land or water use of the coastal zone.

Clean Water Act, 33 USC § 1342 / Rivers and Harbors Act, 33 USC 403

require that dredge and fill actions comply with a Corps of Engineers Section 404 permit.

Executive Order 13089 (coral reefs) (1998)

calls for reduction of impacts to coral reefs.

Executive Order 13158 (marine protected areas) (2000)

requires every federal agency, to the extent permitted by law and the maximum extent practicable, to avoid harming marine protected areas.

See also “Climate Change

Resource-specific Regulations

36 CFR § 1.2(a)(3)

applies NPS regulations to activities occurring within waters subject to the jurisdiction of the US located within the boundaries of a unit, including navigable water and areas within their ordinary reach, below the mean high water mark (or OHW line) without regard to ownership of submerged lands, tidelands, or lowlands.

36 CFR § 5.7

requires NPS authorization prior to constructing a building or other structure (including boat docks) upon, across, over, through, or under any park area.

See also “Climate Change

2006 Management Policies

Section 4.1.5

directs the NPS to re-establish natural functions and processes in human-disturbed components of natural systems in parks unless directed otherwise by Congress.


directs the NPS to allow natural recovery of landscapes disturbed by natural phenomena, unless manipulation of the landscape is necessary to protect park
development or human safety.

Section 4.8.1

requires NPS to allow natural geologic processes to proceed unimpeded. NPS can intervene in these processes only when required by Congress, when necessary for saving human lives, or when there is no other feasible way to protect other natural resources/ park facilities/historic properties.


requires NPS to:

  • Allow natural processes to continue without interference,
  • Investigate alternatives for mitigating the effects of human alterations of natural processes and restoring natural conditions,
  • Study impacts of cultural resource protection proposals on natural resources,
  • Use the most effective and natural-looking erosion control methods available, and avoid new developments in areas subject to natural shoreline processes unless certain factors are present.

See also “Climate Change

Related Links

Part of a series of articles titled Geology & Minerals—Resource Laws, Regulations, and Policies.

Last updated: January 2, 2024