USC Sea Grant

Beach Use and Cultural Diversity

 from the Attitudes toward Marine Wildlife Survey

With the second largest population in the United States, Los Angeles is starved for park and recreational space, a fundamental feature of livable cities. The beach is among the last "natural" open spaces, unique because it is adjacent to the urban areas of Los Angeles, closer than most other open space resources to the densest parts of the city. Yet our beaches are increasingly threatened by pollution and other urban pressures. Closures, warnings, and advisories due to unsafe water conditions degrade the beach, limiting the already short supply of open space in LA. Pollution negatively impacts both the health of the beach ecosystem and human health.

This sections focuses on LA beach use, including beach accessibility for culturally diverse residents of Los Angeles County. Data reported here are derived from the USC Sea Grant publication Attitudes toward Marine Wildlife among Residents of Southern California's Coastal Zone . Overall beach use activities, for all racial/ethnic groups, are shown in the chart below.



Barriers to Beach Access FOCUS: Barriers to Beach Access

Access to coastal ocean resources was generally not seen as a problem by most survey respondents: only 22% felt they did not enjoy adequate access to local beaches. Barriers respondents cited are listed in the adjacent figure, showing the percent of respondents who noted each barrier that affected them. Results showed that Latinos and Asian-Pacific Islanders were twice as likely to report barriers to access than other respondent groups. Approximately one quarter of all those who faced a barrier to beach access cited beach pollution as the primary factor keeping them from visiting the beach: almost half of Latino respondents indicated that their perceptions of beach pollution kept them from using the coastal zone's beaches. Though the vast majority of African American respondents felt they had adequate beach access, 45% of those who experienced barriers had trouble with transportation to the beach.

FOCUS: Latino Immigrants

Latino immigrants comprise a significant population of Los Angeles. Almost half of LA County's population is Latino, of which 75% are immigrants. Latino immigrants, in particular, are likely to have characteristics that could impede access to open space for beach leisure and recreation: lower median household income, residence in dense, inland urban communities, less access to automobile transportation, and limited English skills. Since park space per capita in Los Angeles is most scarce in areas with the highest percentages of Latino residents, the beach is a vital recreational resource for these communities. While several studies have investigated park usage, this study is the first to focus on the beach in terms of use and access.

The survey included 223 Latino immigrant respondents; this group was characterized by relatively low education levels and low-to-moderate household incomes with 94% earning less than $49,999 annually. Over 64% of this group listed Spanish as the primary language spoken at home, and almost half had children under age 18 living at home. With respect to beach use, our findings show that:

  1. Almost three-quarters of Latino immigrant respondents visited the beach at least once over the two-year period prior to the survey.
  2. The most common activities reported by nearly 90% of both men and women were sunbathing, swimming, or walking along the beach.
  3. Regardless of age, gender, language, or duration of residence in the U.S., the most commonly cited barrier to beach use was pollution, with over 50% in each of these subsets citing it as their reason for not visiting the beach.
Highlight: Latino respondents living in the U.S. longer than 20 years went to the beach less and participated in fewer activities than newer (less than five years in the U.S.) residents. Longer-term residents respondents were more likely to participate in water sports, perhaps reflecting superior income status.

Activity and use patterns did not vary drastically by duration of residence in the U.S. Most differences that were present, however, occurred between new arrivals (less than five years in the U.S.) and the longest duration residents (more than 20 years in the U.S.). Newly arrived immigrants were more apt to use the beach, compared with those living in the U.S. longer than 20 years (see table below). These differences are possibly attributable to differences in family status (such as having younger children at home), age, and socio-economic status. Perhaps because it is a low-cost activity, those with fewer economic resources are able to visit the beach more frequently; also, newer residents tend to be younger, and younger respondents had higher rates of beach use.

# years in U.S.
0 days
1-3 days
4-11 days
12-720 days
< 5
> 20
Days Spent at the Beach over 2 Years, Latino Immigrants