America’s Coastal Habitats Are Beautiful, Vital, and Worth Protecting

Increasingly vulnerable ecosystems sustain marine life, filter water, safeguard shorelines

America's Coastal Habitats Are Worth Protecting
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Osprey, like this one near Long Island, New York, depend on still or slow-moving waters, including lakes, estuaries, and coastal wetlands, for the fish and other creatures they eat.
Vicki Jauron/Getty Images

Although coastal habitats make up only a little more than 3 percent of the United States’ marine territory (about 146,000 square miles), they have an outsized positive impact, encompassing highly productive areas essential to ocean life health.

These habitats, however, are under increasing threat: Pollution, poorly planned development, sea-level rise, and other factors have led to degradation. Examples include:

  • Kelp forests—home to more than 1,000 species—have been reduced to an all-time low along the U.S. west coast.
  • Oyster reefs—which improve water quality, provide habitat for marine life, and provide a popular food for people—have declined up to 90 percent since the late 1880s because of a combination of pollution, disease, and overharvesting.
  • Rocky habitats—which provide shelter and food for more than 1 million seabirds—are increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise, coastal development, and other threats.
  • Salt marshes—which provide breeding areas and nurseries for fish, invertebrates, and shorebirds—have declined significantly in both size and number throughout the U.S.
  • Seagrass beds—which filter water, reduce erosion, and support marine habitat—are disappearing at a rate of two football fields an hour.

Pew works with national, state, and local officials, scientists, and others to secure formal protections and management plans that are vital to conserving these important areas.

A great white egret flying with wings spread wide over the water.
A great white egret flying with wings spread wide over the water.
Article

Connecticut Gains National Estuarine Research Reserve

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Article

Connecticut today successfully concluded a decades-long quest when the U.S. Department of Commerce, on the recommendation of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), designated the country’s 30th National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) within the state’s borders.

Wetlands
Wetlands

U.S. States Play Major Role Boosting 'Blue Carbon'

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U.S. states and local jurisdictions are largely responsible for governing their coasts, so they play a critical role in ensuring the protection and restoration of “blue carbon” habitats.

A great egret at sunrise in the salt marsh of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge near Charleston, South Carolina.
A great egret at sunrise in the salt marsh of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge near Charleston, South Carolina.
Article

Writer Delia Owens Discusses Salt Marsh Conservation

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Article

Delia Owens knows a lot about salt marsh from her time spent studying zoology at the University of Georgia and her experience living in North Carolina. And she’s incorporated salt marsh as a central element in her writing, showcasing these vibrant and abundant coastal wetlands that provide essential habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife.

North Carolina wetlands
North Carolina wetlands
Article

North Carolina Approves Updated Coastal Habitat Plan

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Article

North Carolina’s coastal ecosystems, wildlife, and communities got a big boost Nov. 19 when the state’s Marine Fisheries Commission approved an update to its Coastal Habitat Protection Plan (CHPP).

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Agenda for America

Resources for federal, state, and local decision-makers

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Data-driven policymaking is not just a tool for finding new solutions for emerging challenges, it makes government more effective and better able to serve the public interest.

Oysters
Oysters

Oyster Reefs Are at Historic Lows but Can Recover

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Oysters have been part of the human diet for millennia. In the United States, they were a “founding food,” providing a valuable source of protein for Native Americans and European settlers.