Maine Coastal Barrier Resources System

Stephen M. Dickson
Maine Geological Survey

Beaches and dunes often form a sand and gravel landform, or barrier, between the ocean and a coastal wetland. This landform is called a coastal barrier. Commonly referred to as a barrier beach or barrier island, coastal barriers take on many forms. Undeveloped or lightly-developed coastal barriers are recognized by both federal and Maine state law as dynamic environments that continually change. Because sand and gravel in the beach and dunes tends to migrate over time and are subject to storm wave action, public expenditures and federal flood insurance in some coastal barriers are limited.

Areas in Maine officially recognized by law include barrier beaches and dunes from Lubec to Kittery. Most of Maine's largest developed beaches are not part of the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS). Those that qualify, make up the Coastal Barrier Resources System in Maine. Maps showing the geographic extent of the Coastal Barrier Resources System in Maine are available for viewing by appointment at the Maine Geological Survey. Maps may also be downloaded from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Coastal development projects, especially those using public funds, should review the location of planned development in relation to the CBRS and be aware of prohibitions in the laws. For example, Community Development Block Grants that use public funds must determine if a site is within the CBRS as part of their environmental review process.

The following links have much more detail on the Coastal Barrier Resources System and related programs in Maine.


Robert R. Kuehn, 1981, The shifting sands of federal barrier islands policy. Harvard Environmental Law Review, v. 5, n. 2, p. 217-258.

Robert R. Kuehn, 1984, The Coastal Barrier Resources Act and the expenditures limitation approach to natural resources conservation: wave of the future or island unto itself? Ecology Law Quarterly, v. 11, n. 4, p. 583-670.

Last updated on March 24, 2022