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Differential equity in access to public and private coastal infrastructure in the Southeastern United States


Beauvais, Jeffrey; Byers, James; Nibbelink, Nathan (2022), Differential equity in access to public and private coastal infrastructure in the Southeastern United States, Dryad, Dataset,


Despite the ubiquity of coastal infrastructure, it is unclear what factors drive its placement, particularly for water access infrastructure (WAI) that facilitates entry to coastal ecosystems such as docks, piers, and boat landings. The placement of WAI has both ecological and social dimensions, and certain segments of coastal populations may have differential access to water. In this study, we employed an environmental justice framework to assess how public and private WAI in South Carolina, USA is distributed with respect to race and income. Using publicly available data from state agencies and the US Census Bureau, we mapped the distribution of these structures across the 301 km of the South Carolina coast. Using spatially explicit analyses with high resolution, we found that census block groups with lower income contain more public WAI, but racial composition has no effect. On the other hand, private docks showed the opposite trends, as the abundance of docks is significantly, positively correlated with census block groups that have greater percentages of White residents, while income has no effect. Under a “need-based” model of equity, we argue that WAI are not equitably distributed in South Carolina and constitute an environmental justice issue. We contend that the racially unequal distribution of docks is likely a consequence of the legacy of Black land loss, especially of waterfront property, throughout the coastal Southeast over the past half-century. Knowledge of racially inequitable distribution of WAI can guide public policy to rectify this imbalance and support advocacy organizations working to promote public water access.  Our work also points to the importance of considering race in ecological research, as the spatial distribution of coastal infrastructure both directly affects ecosystems through the structures themselves and regulates which groups access water and what activities they can engage in at those sites.


Data was collected from state agencies in South Carolina and the American Community Survey. All analyses were conducted in ArcMap 10.6.1 and R Version 4.0.4. A complete methodology can be found in the "Infrastructure Protocols and Guide.docx" file included.

Usage Notes

R and ArcMap (10.6.X) or greater or ArcGIS Pro are required. There are no restrictions on usage, but it is suggested that users give credit to the original data source as well (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Ocean and Coastal Resource Management Division). 


Andrew W. Mellon Foundation