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Can we stop our access to Maine’s beaches from being swept away with the tides?

January 27, 2023

This piece represents the opinion of the author s.
Sophie Burchell

Everyone who lives on the coast feels a strong pull toward the water—it is why we live here. In Maine, we are lucky enough to have thousands of miles of shoreline that serve as a calming oasis, a natural playground for children and everything in between. However, private ownership claims have curtailed the tradition of public access to Maine’s beaches. Shorefront owners have harassed and called the police on people trying to make a living, conducting vital research or simply taking a walk.

The intertidal zone, which lies between the mean high and low water marks, is home to numerous ecologically and economically important species and habitats. Maine residents are now losing beach access due to a misguided Maine Supreme Court ruling made in 1989. The ruling claimed that beachfront property owners have title to the intertidal zone between the high- and low-tide water marks. The cases also held that the only public uses protected in the intertidal zone are defined by a 17th century ordinance limiting activities to fishing, fowling and navigation. The only way local Mainers will freely walk the coast again is by joining the fight to reclaim the state’s control over intertidal land to be held in trust for the public.

Without reexamination of these cases, integral uses of the intertidal zone are limited. Marine biologists cannot continue groundbreaking research into the effects of climate change on the coast. Fishermen cannot harvest shellfish and seaweeds that propel the economy of coastal communities. Children cannot explore wildlife that fosters passion for the environment.

There are many fighting hard for the public’s right to access Maine’s intertidal land, and you can help. Learn more about Archipelago Law and their court case at ourbeaches.me. Reach out to your elected officials at the district and state level and tell them your story and what the intertidal zone means to you. Let them know Mainers will not let this go quietly.

The potential for the court to expand the public trust may be seen as a revolutionary way of thinking; however, it is simply an adaptation to our growing society. If the judiciary cannot see the importance of these activities being a part of the public right, the prosperity of Maine coastal communities is at risk.

Sophie Piette and Isabella Caprio are students at the University of New England.


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