Sandcastles with a message

Many Americans flocking to the beaches this week will have more on their minds than sun and fun. August 2-9 in this presidentially proclaimed "Year of the Coast" is Coast Week. Environmentalists and others concerned about the need to protect the 80,000-mile US shoreline from erosion, overdevelopment, and pollution will use the occasion to dramatize some of the man-made threats to what is sometimes called the nation's most fragile and endangered natural resource.

Two major dangers to coastal areas will be given particular attention: on Sandcastle Day, sand sculptures in the shape of beach houses and condominiums will be built near the water's edge to demonstrate how the incoming tide destroys buildings in coastal hazzard zones; on Coast Discovery Day, orphans, inner-city youngsters, and other who seldom get to enjoy the coast will be given an opportunity to do so, this to symbolize how beach access is shrinking due to the scarcity of public parks and transportation and the growing number of signs with the warning: "Keep off: private property."

Coast Week could help wash away some of the traditional public apathy to the problems besetting the US shoreline. Bills languishing in both houses of Congress would also help. They would deter overdevelopment on barrier islands and provide new incentives for states and waterfront communities to draw up coastal management programs that do a better job of balancing the competing environmental, recreational, and energy needs that come into conflict on the nation's beaches and barrier islands.

A display of aroused public concern during Coast Week might help convince Congress to take the needed legislative action. But if this week's demonstrations are to have an impact more lasting than that of sandcastles on a beach, many more Americans will have to show, on a day-to-day basis, that they are willing to assume greater individual responsibility for preserving their coasts.

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