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A beach is a landform along a body of water. It usually consists of loose particles, which are often composed of rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles, or cobblestones. The particles composing a beach are occasionally biological in origin, such as mollusc shells or coralline algae.
Some beaches have man-made infrastructure, such as lifeguard posts, changing rooms, and showers. They may also have hospitality venues (such as resorts, camps, hotels, and restaurants) nearby. Wild beaches, also known as undeveloped or undiscovered beaches, are not developed in this manner. Wild beaches can be valued for their untouched beauty and preserved nature.
Beaches typically occur in areas along the coast where wave or current action deposits and reworks sediments.
Although the seashore is most commonly associated with the word beach, beaches are also found by lakes and alongside large rivers.
Beach may refer to:
small systems where rock material moves onshore, offshore, or alongshore by the forces of waves and currents; or
geological units of considerable size.
The former are described in detail below; the larger geological units are discussed elsewhere under bars.
There are several conspicuous parts to a beach that relate to the processes that form and shape it. The part mostly above water (depending upon tide), and more or less actively influenced by the waves at some point in the tide, is termed the beach berm. The berm is the deposit of material comprising the active shoreline. The berm has a crest (top) and a face—the latter being the slope leading down towards the water from the crest. At the very bottom of the face, there may be a trough, and further seaward one or more long shore bars: slightly raised, underwater embankments formed where the waves first start to break.
The sand deposit may extend well inland from the berm crest, where there may be evidence of one or more older crests (the storm beach) resulting from very large storm waves and beyond the influence of the normal waves. At some point the influence of the waves (even storm waves) on the material comprising the beach stops, and if the particles are small enough (sand size or smaller), winds shape the feature. Where wind is the force distributing the grains inland, the deposit behind the beach becomes a dune.
These geomorphic features compose what is called the beach profile. The beach profile changes seasonally due to the change in wave energy experienced during summer and winter months. In temperate areas where summer is characterised by calmer seas and longer periods between breaking wave crests, the beach profile is higher in summer. The gentle wave action during this season tends to transport sediment up the beach towards the berm where it is deposited and remains while the water recedes. Onshore winds carry it further inland forming and enhancing dunes.
Conversely, the beach profile is lower in the storm season (winter in temperate areas) due to the increased wave energy, and the shorter periods between breaking wave crests. Higher energy waves breaking in quick succession tend to mobilise sediment from the shallows, keeping it in suspension where it is prone to be carried along the beach by longshore currents, or carried out to sea to form longshore bars, especially if the longshore current meets an outflow from a river or flooding stream. The removal of sediment from the beach berm and dune thus decreases the beach profile.
In tropical areas, the storm season tends to be during the summer months, with calmer weather commonly associated with the winter season.
If storms coincide with unusually high tides, or with a freak wave event such as a tidal surge or tsunami which causes significant coastal flooding, substantial quantities of material may be eroded from the coastal plain or dunes behind the berm by receding water. This flow may alter the shape of the coastline, enlarge the mouths of rivers and create new deltas at the mouths of streams that had not been powerful enough to overcome longshore movement of sediment.
The line between beach and dune is difficult to define in the field. Over any significant period of time, sediment is always being exchanged between them. The drift line (the high point of material deposited by waves) is one potential demarcation. This would be the point at which significant wind movement of sand could occur, since the normal waves do not wet the sand beyond this area. However, the drift line is likely to move inland under assault by storm waves.
Beaches and recreation
The development of the beach as a popular leisure resort from the mid-19th century was the first manifestation of what is now the global tourist industry. The first seaside resorts were opened in the 18th century for the aristocracy, who began to frequent the seaside as well as the then fashionable spa towns, for recreation and health. One of the earliest such seaside resorts, was Scarborough in Yorkshire during the 1720s; it had been a fashionable spa town since a stream of acidic water was discovered running from one of the cliffs to the south of the town in the 17th century. The first rolling bathing machines were introduced by 1735.
The opening of the resort in Brighton and its reception of royal patronage from King George IV, extended the seaside as a resort for health and pleasure to the much larger London market, and the beach became a centre for upper-class pleasure and frivolity. This trend was praised and artistically elevated by the new romantic ideal of the picturesque landscape; Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon is an example of that. Later, Queen Victoria's long-standing patronage of the Isle of Wight and Ramsgate in Kent ensured that a seaside residence was considered as a highly fashionable possession for those wealthy enough to afford more than one home.
Seaside resorts for the working class
Blackpool Promenade c. 1898
The extension of this form of leisure to the middle and working class began with the development of the railways in the 1840s, which offered cheap and affordable fares to fast growing resort towns. In particular, the completion of a branch line to the small seaside town Blackpool from Poultron led to a sustained economic and demographic boom. A sudden influx of visitors, arriving by rail, provided the motivation for entrepreneurs to build accommodation and create new attractions, leading to more visitors and a rapid cycle of growth throughout the 1850s and 1860s.
The growth was intensified by the practice among the Lancashire cotton mill owners of closing the factories for a week every year to service and repair machinery. These became known as wakes weeks. Each town's mills would close for a different week, allowing Blackpool to manage a steady and reliable stream of visitors over a prolonged period in the summer. A prominent feature of the resort was the promenade and the pleasure piers, where an eclectic variety of performances vied for the people's attention. In 1863, the North Pier in Blackpool was completed, rapidly becoming a centre of attraction for elite visitors. Central Pier was completed in 1868, with a theatre and a large open-air dance floor.
Many of the popular beach resorts were equipped with bathing machines because even the all-covering beachwear of the period was considered immodest. By the end of the century the English coastline had over 100 large resort towns, some with populations exceeding 50,000.
Expansion around the world
Seaside facade at Monte Carlo, 1870s
The development of the seaside resort abroad was stimulated by the well developed English love of the beach. The French Riviera alongside the Mediterranean had already become a popular destination for the British upper class by the end of the 18th century. In 1864, the first railway to Nice was completed, making the Riviera accessible to visitors from all over Europe. By 1874, residents of foreign enclaves in Nice, most of whom were British, numbered 25,000. The coastline became renowned for attracting the royalty of Europe, including Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.
Continental European attitudes towards gambling and nakedness tended to be more lax than in Britain, so British and French entrepreneurs were quick to exploit the possibilities. In 1863, the Prince of Monaco, Charles III and François Blanc, a French businessman, arranged for steamships and carriages to take visitors from Nice to Monaco, where large luxury hotels, gardens and casinos were built. The place was renamed Monte Carlo.
Commercial sea bathing spread to the United States and parts of the British Empire by the end of the 19th century. By the late 1890s, Henry Flagler developed the Florida East Coast Railway, which linked the coastal sea resorts developing at St. Augustine, FL and Miami Beach, FL, to winter travelers from the northern United States and Canada on the East Coast Railway. By the early 20th century surfing was developed in Hawaii and Australia, and then moving to southern California by the early 1960s. By the 1970s cheap and affordable air travel was the catalyst for the growth of a truly global tourism market which benefited areas such as the Mediterranean, Australia, South Africa, and the coastal Sun Belt regions of the United States.
Children walking on a beach
Beaches can be popular on warm sunny days. In the Victorian era, many popular beach resorts were equipped with bathing machines because even the all-covering beachwear of the period was considered immodest. This social standard still prevails in many Muslim countries. At the other end of the spectrum are topfree beaches and nude beaches where clothing is optional or not allowed. In most countries social norms are significantly different on a beach in hot weather, compared to adjacent areas where similar behavior might not be tolerated and might even be prosecuted.
In more than thirty countries in Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Costa Rica, South America and the Caribbean, the best recreational beaches are awarded Blue Flag status, based on such criteria as water quality and safety provision. Subsequent loss of this status can have a severe effect on tourism revenues.
Beaches are often dumping grounds for waste and litter, necessitating the use of beach cleaners and other cleanup projects. More significantly, many beaches are a discharge zone for untreated sewage in most underdeveloped countries; even in developed countries beach closure is an occasional circumstance due to sanitary sewer overflow. In these cases of marine discharge, waterborne disease from fecal pathogens and contamination of certain marine species are a frequent outcome.
Some beaches are artificial; they are either permanent or temporary (For examples see Monaco, Paris, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Nottingham, Toronto, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tianjin).
The soothing qualities of a beach and the pleasant environment offered to the beachgoer are replicated in artificial beaches, such as "beach style" pools with zero-depth entry and wave pools that recreate the natural waves pounding upon a beach. In a zero-depth entry pool, the bottom surface slopes gradually from above water down to depth. Another approach involves so-called urban beaches, a form of public park becoming common in large cities. Urban beaches attempt to mimic natural beaches with fountains that imitate surf and mask city noises, and in some cases can be used as a play park.
Beach nourishment involves pumping sand onto beaches to improve their health. Beach nourishment is common for major beach cities around the world; however the beaches that have been nourished can still appear quite natural and often many visitors are unaware of the works undertaken to support the health of the beach. Such beaches are often not recognized by consumers as artificial. A famous example of beach nourishment came with the replenishment of Waikīkī Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, where sand from Manhattan Beach, California was transported via ship and barge throughout most of the 20th century in order to combat Waikiki's erosion problems. The Surfrider Foundation has debated the merits of artificial reefs with members torn between their desire to support natural coastal environments and opportunities to enhance the quality of surfing waves. Similar debates surround beach nourishment and snow cannon in sensitive environments.
Restrictions on access
Public access to beaches is restricted in some parts of the world. For example, most beaches on the Jersey Shore are restricted to people who can purchase beach tags. Some beaches also restrict dogs for some periods of the year.
Also, private beaches such as those along the shores, may belong to the neighborhood association nearby. Signs are usually posted the entrance. A permit or special use occasion event may be granted upon executing the proper channels to legally obtain one.
Public access to beaches is protected by law in the U.S. State of Oregon, thanks to a 1967 state law, the Oregon Beach Bill, which guaranteed public access from the Columbia River to the California state line, "so that the public may have the free and uninterrupted use".
A well designed beach access should:
provide a durable surface able to withstand the traffic flow;
aesthetically complement the surrounding structures and natural landforms;
be located in an area that is convenient for users and consistent with safe traffic flows;
be scaled to match the traffic flow (i.e. wide and strong enough to safely carry the size and quantity of pedestrians and vehicles intended to use it);
be maintained appropriately; and
be signed and lit to discourage beach users from creating their own alternative crossings that may be more destructive to the beachhead.
Amongst the world's longest beaches are:
Eighty Mile Beach (220 kilometres [140 mi]) in north-west Australia;
Praia do Cassino (212 kilometres [132 mi]) in Brazil;
Ninety Mile Beach, Victoria (151 kilometres [94 mi]) in Victoria, Australia;
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh (125 kilometres [78 mi] unbroken);
90 Mile Beach in New Zealand (88 kilometres [55 mi]);
Fraser Island beach (about 65 kilometres [40 mi]) in Queensland, Australia;
Troia-Sines Beach (63 kilometres [39 mi]) in Portugal;
the Jersey Shore, 204 km/127 miles; and
Long Beach, Washington (which is about 40 kilometres [25 mi]).
Padre Island beach (about 182 kilometres [113 mi]) in Gulf of Mexico, Texas.
Playa Novillera beach (about 90 kilometres [56 mi]) in Mexico.
A beach is an unstable environment that exposes plants and animals to changeable and potentially harsh conditions. Some animals burrow into the sand and feed on material deposited by the waves. Crabs, insects and shorebirds feed on these beach dwellers. The endangered piping plover and some tern species rely on beaches for nesting. Sea turtles also bury their eggs in ocean beaches. Seagrasses and other beach plants grow on undisturbed areas of the beach and dunes.
Ocean beaches are habitats with organisms adapted to salt spray, tidal overwash, and shifting sands. Some of these organisms are found only on beaches. Examples of these beach organisms in the southeast US include plants like sea oats, sea rocket, beach elder, beach morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae), and beach peanut, and animals such as mole crabs (Hippoidea), coquina clams (Donax), ghost crabs, and white beach tiger beetles.