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World's best eco-friendly beaches

By Julie Knapp
Australia's Whitsunday Island is home to pristine Whitehaven Beach.
Australia's Whitsunday Island is home to pristine Whitehaven Beach.
  • Many gorgeous, pristine beaches offer a sanctuary to wildlife and travelers alike
  • Half of the species of flora and fauna located in Costa Rica can be found on Playa Matapalo
  • Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of Hawaii's top spots for snorkeling

(Mother Nature Network) -- Some beaches suffer from pollution, but there are many gorgeous, pristine escapes that offer a sanctuary to wildlife and travelers alike. We scoured the planet to find the most spectacular shorelines -- and, no surprise, most of our top choices are on protected land or are nearly impossible to reach.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia

This 4.3-mile white sparkling beach has won many awards, including "Cleanest Beach in Queensland," and national awards for resource recovery and environmental protection. The breathtaking beach is located on Whitsunday Island, the largest of a 74-island chain. Visitors are limited by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and must register with a tour guide for access.

Playa Matapalo, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Known as the lungs of the Earth, the Osa Peninsula is blessed with a dense forest and a conservation-minded government. Half of the 500,000 species of flora and fauna located in Costa Rica can be found here. The area is also home to beautiful Playa Matapalo, a gray-sand beach popular with surfers that leads into the Portalon National Wildlife Refuge complete with a marine turtle protection project.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Oahu, Hawaii

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve wasn't always so clean. The state has been enforcing strict rules for beachgoers in the former volcanic crater site since 1990, and it is the first Marine Life Conservation District in Hawaii. Visitor numbers are restricted and an educational video about preserving the fragile ecosystem is mandatory before entry. Now the living reef environment is one of the top spots in the state for snorkeling.

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Koh Libong, Trang Province, Thailand

While many popular beaches in Thailand have been trashed by tourism, Trang Province officials are committed to sustainability and ecotourism. Koh Libong is the province's largest island and has been protected with the help of Swedish environmentalists. The sparsely populated area doesn't get many tourists, leaving the golden beaches open to crabs, birds, turtles and dugongs.

Las Islas Cies, Galicia, Spain

Often considered one of the best beaches in Europe, the white sand of Las Islas Cies remains beautiful because the island is protected as a national park. The number of visitors is restricted, cars are prohibited and overnight stays are restricted to camping. Many beachgoers tell stories of feeling as if they are the only ones on the island. Even though it's on the Atlantic Ocean, the water is as calm as a lake.

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Sancho Bay, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

The island of Fernando de Noronha is a protected marine ecological reserve, and only 420 tourists are allowed to access the beach at one time. Those who do visit will find 15 beaches with sparkling blue water and white sand beaches, but Sancho Bay, surrounded by natural walls, is one of the most unspoiled and secluded spots on the island. It is accessible only by a ladder that's wedged in a rock crevice.

Short Sands Beach: Oswald West State Park, Oregon

Many trails lead to the beach in Oswald West State Park, and they all wind through an amazing forest of towering mature trees. Expect to see surfers toting their boards to the waves. The beach is tucked away in a cove and surrounded by mountains, which makes it feel secluded from the rest of the world. Visitors can also access a 13-mile stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail from this beach.

Goosewing Beach Preserve, Little Compton, Rhode Island

Beach, dune and coastal pond environments come together in this scenic Rhode Island spot. Goosewing Beach is owned by the Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island and other groups, an effort to protect endangered shorebirds. It is one of the few breeding sites for the piping plover.

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