Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Economics (MSECO)




Kathleen P. Bell

Second Committee Member

Caroline Noblet

Third Committee Member

Keith S. Evans


Coastal beaches are important economic, social and cultural assets, hosting a variety of recreation activities ranging from wading in calm shallows to surfing in rough waters. Those who recreate on beaches often travel great distances to visit, suggesting that they place a high economic value on these resources. Despite the economic and cultural significance of beaches, little is known about the diversity of beachgoers and the ways they seek out safety information and make decisions on and between beaches. Safety risks are experienced differently across groups of beachgoers; those at higher risk of illness or injury include children, the elderly, the immunocompromised, weak swimmers, and those who engage in high-contact recreation activities. Safety information helps beachgoers understand the risks of recreating in the water on a beach visit, yet research suggests that few beachgoers seek such information. In this analysis, we use economic methods and data from a survey of Maine and New Hampshire beachgoers to examine safety information seeking and high-contact recreation behaviors and their impacts on visitation decisions.

In the first chapter, we analyze the safety information seeking behavior of beachgoers using three discrete regression approaches. We find systematic patterns among beachgoers’ information seeking behaviors. Beachgoers are more likely to seek out surf conditions information than water quality information, suggesting that they regard the risks associated with each differently. Those who engage in certain high-contact recreation activities in the ocean are more likely to seek out some type of safety information, and our results motivate future work further exploring the demand for water quality information specifically. Our findings also prompt interesting research extensions about whether beachgoers change their behavior in response to information, and how diverse beachgoers perceive their risks on the beach.

In the second chapter, we estimate a series of single-site recreation demand models for four diverse beaches in southern Maine and New Hampshire to test whether information seeking behaviors and recreation choices impact decisions to take a trip to the beach. Results differ between our study beaches in both sign and significance, suggesting that there is heterogeneity in the factors that impact beach visitation across the four sites. These results help to inform future models of trip demand, which could build on our generalized analysis to assess recreation behavior on specific beaches or regions.

Understanding how beachgoers use knowledge about safety conditions and recreation activities both on and between beaches is important for welfare estimation, safety communication, and public health. This research has implications for various natural resource management and policy strategies that communicate safety information to the public. Better understanding the choices that beachgoers make around beaches helps to establish relative risks, from both water quality and surf conditions, on publicly monitored beaches. These findings become increasingly important as future changes in the climate and increasing human development near the coast stresses the health and safety conditions on coastal beaches.

Included in

Economics Commons