By Jayne Clark, USA Today

The November/December issue of National Geographic Traveler rates 99 coastal areas worldwide, based on scores from 340 well-traveled experts in various tourism/preservation fields.

Their conclusions will no doubt have some U.S. tourism promoters fuming.

Organized in five categories, the judges evaluated six criteria: environmental and ecological quality; social and cultural integrity; condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites; aesthetic appeal; quality of tourism management; and outlook for the future.

First, the U.S. winners:
Of the18 shore areas that landed in the Top Rated category, only three are in the USA. They are Hawaii’s Na Pali Coast (“still has a degree of ‘unspoiltness’ about it”); the 363-mile Oregon coast (“Some beaches near population centers are overbuilt, but, in general, tourism is ‘appropriately managed’ “) and Georgia’s Sea Islands (“most islands remain either ‘undeveloped or tastefully developed’ “).
The No. 1 spot, with a score of 84, is Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, North America’s easternmost point, and one of four Canadian locales to make it into the Top Rated category.

And the biggest losers?

At the bottom of the heap with their own “Catastrophic: A disaster has occurred” subheading are the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana (with a score of 24) and Mississippi (with a score of 33). Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil-well blowout are cited for Louisiana’s “difficult straits” as well as “stewardship compromises” made long before those disasters occurred. Mississippi’s coast also has suffered from hurricanes and the oil spill, but also from the advent of casinos, the judges said.

U.S. destinations rounding out the Bottom Rateds: The Jersey Shore (overcrowded); South Carolina’s Grand Strand (Myrtle Beach is “the definition of unsustainable,” although some of the region’s state parks are worth visiting); and Hawaii’s Waikiki (a “high-rise concrete jungle”).

Other U.S. locales and where they landed in the rankings:

In the Doing Well category (retain a sense of place with some solvable problems): California’s San Mateo/Santa Cruz coast; and Florida’s Forgotten Coast (between Tallahassee and Panama City).

In the Balance (a mix of successes and failures, with a risky future): Juneau, Alaska; Washington’s Puget Sound and California’s Santa Catalina Island.

Facing Trouble (under severe pressures): Florida’s Treasure Coast (Boca Raton to Vero Beach); Arizona’s Lake Powell and California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

What’s your opinion of these rankings? Did Louisiana, Mississippi and Myrtle Beach get a bum rap? Conversely, are there fabulous coastal areas they missed?

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