EASTHAM (CBS/AP) – Massachusetts residents don’t have to go far to find America’s fifth-best beach, according to one expert.

Coast Guard Beach in Eastham landed at No. 5 on Dr. Beach’s “Top 10 Beaches of 2018.” Last year, it was sixth.

“The picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view down upon the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay,” writes Stephen Leatherman, a coastal science professor at Florida International University in Miami. “During the summer, beach-goers take quick, refreshing dips in the ocean as water temperatures only reach 60-70 degrees.”

coast guard beach Cape Cod Beach Is Fifth Best In US, Ranking Says

Coast Guard Beach (Image credit: Dr. Beach)

Leatherman, a.k.a. Dr. Beach, gave the top spot to Kapalua Bay Beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Leatherman told The Associated Press that Kapalua is one of his “favorite beaches. It’s just an idyllic place to visit. What’s interesting is a lot of beaches are beautiful but can be dangerous because of big waves. This beach has two arms of (hardened) lava flows, ancient lava flows, which protect it. So it’s a really calm waterway. You don’t go there for surfing. You go there for swimming. The water is warm year-round.”

The Top 10, according to Dr. Beach:

10. Beachwalker Park Kiawah Island, South Carolina

9. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

8. Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii

7. Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

6. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outerbanks of North Carolina

5. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

4. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

3. Grayton Beach State Park Florida panhandle

2. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks of North Carolina

1. Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Leatherman has been compiling his annual list of top 10 beaches every year since 1991. He uses 50 criteria to evaluate beaches, with the most important categories being water cleanliness, safety (meaning no rip currents or drownings) and management of the beach environment and its facilities. He also looks for fine, soft sand, and gives extra points for beaches that prohibit smoking. He doesn’t collect water from every beach in test tubes himself, by the way, but he does use data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grade the beaches on water quality.

Leatherman’s list has its origins in a class he taught at the University of Maryland. A student was writing an article for a travel magazine and asked him to come up with a list of the 10 best beaches based on his expertise as a coastal scientist. He began producing his official annual list in 1991 using his 50 criteria and his vast knowledge of U.S. ocean beaches. “I had visited every (ocean) beach in the U.S. for a Department of Interior study … so that gave me the background data set to work from,” he said.

His goal in producing the list each year, he says, “is to reward those beaches which maintain the high quality and the safety areas but also to encourage other beaches to do the same.” He looks for beaches that “balance nature with the built environment.”

But how come so many states with beloved beaches — in places like Maine, the DelMarva Peninsula, the Jersey shore, the Pacific Northwest and other coastal areas — never make the list, while the same names keep turning up year after year?

Leatherman says it’s all about the math in his categories. Beaches lose points for water that’s too chilly, sand that’s too coarse, condo towers instead of dunes, riptides and drownings, erosion and limited public access.

Leatherman adds that he doesn’t make money from the list. He just finds “it interesting to do” and hopes that the standards he promotes will encourage other beaches “to do the right thing and improve their quality.”

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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