A good reason to check the facts

Published 7:04 pm Friday, April 6, 2018

North Carolina is known for its beaches. In fact, beaches on Ocracoke regularly make Dr. Beach’s yearly top 10 list of best beaches, and he’s considered to be the expert in beaches, using 50 separate criteria to judge which beach is the best beach. Ocracoke Lifeguard Beach was No. 3 on the list for 2017, right behind Kapalua Bay Beach in Maui (No. 2) and Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida (No. 1).

Beaches have long been considered part of the public trust, the idea that certain cultural and natural resources are preserved for public use that dates back to the Magna Carta. For example, in the late 1800s, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that waterways able to be navigated by vessel and fishing rights were protected under the public trust doctrine. State law now says the public has the right to “freely use and enjoy the State’s ocean and estuarine beaches and public access to the beaches.”

There are ongoing arguments, some of which make it into the courts, about what beach is considered public and which ones are considered private. In North Carolina, owners who have beach-front property, by law, own the dry sand beach up down to the high tide mark; the public has the right to set up camp for the day with tents, umbrellas, chairs, rafts, towels, pails and shovels and all the many other accessories that come with a trip to the beach between the high-tide mark and the water. While high tide might leave limited space, there’s still plenty of beach to use. And there are plenty of public beaches, as well.

The state of Florida just made a lot of people angry with a new law signed this week by Gov. Rick Scott. Florida is a popular vacation destination — its white sand beaches are lined with hotels, condos and plenty of other privately owned property. Like North Carolina’s law, this law now states that private property extends over dry sand to the high-tide mark and everything past that point is open for public use.

People are angry because they don’t realize that the law did not just privatize certain beaches; the law merely defined the distinction between public beach and private beach, just like North Carolina’s law did decades ago.

But it’s been proven that once misinformation gets into the public sphere, it’s very difficult to retract, which is why, in this era of reliance on the 24-hour news cycle, the internet and social media, it’s always a good idea to check facts, and stories, before sharing information that may not tell the entire story.

Florida did not kick people off the beach with its new law, but a lot of people certainly think that now. It’s appears to be a case of misinformation, unlike Ocracoke having one of the best beaches in the U.S. — that, is fact.