Photo: alligator floating Louisiana

Peekaboo: An American alligator surveys its domain in Louisiana's Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, which was largely spared the 2010 oil spill that gave this southern coastline a rating verging on "catastrophic."

Photograph by Byron Jorjorian, Alamy

In Trouble: Severe problems; some destinations fighting back, some not.

Mexico Zihuatenejo
Score: 47

Zihuatenejo lies northwest of Acapulco on the Costa Grande. Unsightly development sprawls outward from the city center, the tourism infrastructure is inadequate, and worrying levels of pollution have put its "fragile ecosystem under siege." On the rare occasion that it is not overwhelmed by cruise ship crowds, the Old Town "still feels like Mexico."

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Gambia: Atlantic Beach Coast
Score: 45

Pint-sized Gambia offers a short but "powerful" coastline populated by "incredibly friendly and welcoming people." Unfortunately, "overzealous salespeople" and an overabundance of beachside litter are a problem. The hospitality industry's near exclusive focus on package tourism "shuts out the local people."

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Hawaii: Waikiki, Oahu
Score: 45

With its imported sand, "high-rise concrete jungle," polluted water, and "superficial touristic representation" of indigenous Hawaiian culture, Waikiki certainly differs markedly from Kauai's pristine Na Pali coast, the only other Hawaiian destination included in this year's survey. "But considering the incredible visitor numbers this coastline has had to deal with over many years, it is in remarkably good state."

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Jamaica: Northwest Coast: Montego Bay-Ocho Rios
Score: 45

The all-inclusive resorts of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios "afford visitors many amenities, but restrict their exposure to the true Jamaican experience." Many are foreign-owned and contribute little to the local economy. Bauxite mining, high cruise-ship traffic, and unsustainable levels of snorkeling are all hurting the region's ecology.

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Portugal: Algarve
Score: 44

Over the past two decades, Portugal's southwest corner has increasingly come to resemble so many of the world's other overbuilt coastal destinations. Golf courses and "tatty concrete jungles with little or no authentic character" have proliferated. Luckily, "the quieter west coast still offers wild, undeveloped beaches where you can escape the crowds."

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Lebanon: Coastal Areas
Score: 43

The Lebanese coastline offers miles of "pretty beaches" and "impressive archaeological evidence" of its rich history, but suffers from some environmental problems.

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Vietnam: Nha Trang and Mui Ne
Score: 43


"Overdevelopment without a watchful eye" has recently swallowed up stretches of previously empty coastline in both of these southern resort towns, putting the "amazing natural beauty" of their environs at risk.

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South Carolina: Grand Strand (Myrtle Beach & Region)
Score: 43


Unapologetically paved over by golf courses, strip malls, water parks, and concrete high-rises, Myrtle Beach is "the definition of unsustainable." The state parks in its vicinity are worth a visit, however.

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Spain: Costa Blanca (Alicante)
Score: 43

Mass tourism has eclipsed the rich heritage of this sunny coast. The skyscraper-crowned tourist city of Benidorm draws criticism on cultural and aesthetic grounds. However, some panelists noted that the intense concentration of tourists in one spot may save the environment elsewhere.

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India: Goa
Score: 41

This beach-lined former Portuguese colony offers wildlife sanctuaries, and its towns and cities feature a style of colonial architecture unique in India. Unfortunately, Goa's reputation for sun-and-sand hedonism often attracts visitors uninterested in the state's natural and cultural heritage.

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Egypt: Sharm el Sheikh Area
Score: 38

Overhyped and hyper-developed, the tourism industry in Sharm el Sheikh has gradually wreaked havoc on local ecosystems and done little to educate visitors about the region's Bedouin heritage.

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Cambodia: Sihanoukville
Score: 38

Cambodia's premier coastal resort "has some serious issues to address in terms of sustainability," including corruption involved in development decisions, poor waste management, and "a low aesthetic of the built environment."

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UAE: Dubai
Score: 37

Now clawing its way back following its recent real estate collapse, Dubai and its over-the-top development approach has been great for architects seeking to flex their muscles on one skyscraper after another. Unfortunately, the environment has taken a beating, from disrupted coastlines to an enormous per capita carbon footprint. International residents greatly outnumber native-born Emiratis, but this cosmopolitan population suits the place’s history as a trading center.

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New Jersey: North Shore
Score: 36

Much loved by generations of New Jerseyites who grew up spending summers "down the Shore," the area suffers from overcrowding, but some towns still "retain considerable charm."

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Catastrophic: A disaster has occurred.

Mississippi: Gulf Coast
Score: 33

A family beach destination for decades, the Mississippi coast has seen Hurricanes Camille and Katrina, the legalization of casino gambling beginning in the 1990s, and this year’s oil spill. All have transformed the struggling resort area in difficult and different ways.

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Louisiana: Gulf Coast
Score: 24

A one-two punch from Katrina and the BP oil-well blowout have put this culturally and ecologically rich “Sportsman’s Paradise” in difficult straits, as have stewardship compromises made long before the late disasters.

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Descriptions written by Jonathan King. Comments edited by Jonathan King, Marilyn Terrell, and Jonathan B. Tourtellot.

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