By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke’s beach is Dr. Beach’s getaway beach and that’s one of the reasons why he again honored it with the No. 1 beach in America for 2022.
Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka, “Dr. Beach,” was on Ocracoke’s lifeguard beach Wednesday (May 25) to bestow the designation and enjoy the pristine sands.
“It’s National Seashore; it’s protected; it’s for sea turtles. There’s on litter, no cigarette smoking,” he said in an interview Wednesday between two dozen media interviews from around the nation and organized by the North Carolina Tourism Bureau.
This is the second time that Ocracoke’s lifeguard beach was named the No. 1 beach as it first received that designation in 2007. Then and up until now, if a beach received No. 1, it was retired from receiving top honors, though it could still be in the top 10.
“I did that,” he said about the former rule. “But after 25 years I decided to start over because I really want to emphasize litter and smoking — for people’s health but also litter.”
Cigarette butts, the No. 1 form of pollution on the beach, have become a particular crusade of Leatherman, a North Carolina native of Charlotte, who visited Ocracoke in his youth and who attended North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
“I’ve sat down on some beaches and I’ve measured as many as 10 cigarette butts per square meter,” he said. “I’ve watched birds and sea turtles and kids eating cigarette butts. You come to beaches to enjoy nature. This is not a giant ashtray.”
Cigarette filters are made of cellulose and can last for decades, he said. So, he decided to start over with his designations and emphasize cigarette butts.
“I said, I’m gonna start giving extra credit to beaches that don’t allow smoking and really emphasize that, and so that’s what I did,” he said.
Smoking is not allowed on the Lifeguard Beach, which has professional lifeguards on duty daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
After this year, Ocracoke will again not be eligible for the No. 1 spot, but “it will be on my list,” he said.
Also, this year the Lighthouse Beach at Buxton is No. 6. Leatherman’s list can be found at www.drbeach.org.
Leatherman, an oceanographer who lives in Miami, Florida, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on beach quality and since 1999 has annually rates America’s Best Beaches.
He rates 650 public beaches on 50 criteria, including beach width at low tide, water quality, sand softness and color, wildlife, cleanliness and public safety every year. Leatherman serves as the director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research and is the author of more than a dozen books.
Witt Tuttle, director of the North Carolina Visitor’s Bureau and who oversaw today’s interviews, said Leatherman called him after Hurricane Dorian flooded the island in 2019 to ask how the island was doing.
“The village of Ocracoke is thrilled to be recognized as the number one beach in America this year,” said Kenny Ballance, Ocracoke Township Tourism Development Authority (OTTDA) chairman. “Anyone that has ever visited Ocracoke knows it’s a special place with 16 miles of pristine beaches and plenty of locally owned small businesses, lodging and restaurants.”