Coastal Geology—Laws and Policy

vehicles and people fishing on beach

NPS Photo.

The NPS's authority to conserve and manage ocean and coastal parks is derived from the NPS Organic Act of 1916, which states that "the fundamental purpose of the said to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." Other laws and the enabling statutes for ocean and coastal parks also provide the authority and direction for ocean and coastal parks.

The constitutional basis for these various statutes is primarily found in the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution, with further support in the Enclave and Commerce Clauses.


The NPS implements the legal authorities cited above and governs activities in ocean and coastal parks through the general NPS regulations, found at 36 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Chapter I. These regulations apply to federally-owned lands and waters administered by the NPS within park boundaries and also to some nonfederal lands and waters within park boundaries (36 C.F.R Section 1.2).

Activities in ocean and coastal parks may additionally be governed by special park regulations (36 C.F.R. Section 7) and/or a Superintendent's compendium.


Additionally, the NPS manages ocean and coastal parks as directed by the NPS Management Policies (2006). The policies most used to resolve coastal geology questions in ocean and coastal parks include:

Shorelines and Barrier Islands: Natural shoreline processes in parks (such as erosion, deposition, dune formation, overwash, inlet formation, and shoreline migration) will be allowed to continue without interference, unless:

  • Directed otherwise by Congress;
  • Necessary in emergencies that threaten human life and property;
  • There is no other feasible way to protect natural or cultural resources or park facilities;
  • Interference is necessary to restore impacted conditions and processes (Management Policies Section, 2006).

Facilities: Facilities should not be located or replaced in areas where they would be vulnerable to damage or destruction by natural physical processes. If facilities must be located in such areas, they should be sustainably designed (e.g., removable in advance of hazardous storms or other conditions). (Management Policies Section, 2006).

Jurisdiction Reference Manual

The NPS recently developed a basic guidance document to clarify NPS authorities in ocean and coastal park units. See Director's Order #39 at the NPS Office of Policy.

Last updated: July 24, 2018


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