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 Beautiful, Vital, and 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.

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National Estuarine Research Reserves Go Virtual During COVID-19 Response

The staff at the 4,122-acre Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia is invested in its mission to educate people about estuaries—bodies of water where rivers mix with ocean saltwater, creating unique habitats for wildlife and providing support for coastal businesses through healthy fisheries and tourism.

Coastal Habits
Coastal Habits
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Quiz: Are You a Coastal Habitats Whiz?

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Quiz: Are You a Coastal Habitats Whiz?

Coastal habitats make up less than 4 percent of the United States’ marine territory, but they provide significant benefits to the ocean, marine wildlife, and the people who live, work, and play along the country’s shores.

Pew
Pew
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Florida Poised to Protect Gulf of Mexico’s Largest Seagrass Bed

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Florida Poised to Protect Gulf of Mexico’s Largest Seagrass Bed

Florida’s west coast is home to vast seagrass beds where fishing, scalloping, and ecotourism form the backbone of coastal economies. Some 400,000 acres of those beds moved a critical step closer to protection during the Florida legislative session when lawmakers approved bills to create the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve.

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Connecticut Reserve Would Expand National System Protecting Estuaries

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Connecticut Reserve Would Expand National System Protecting Estuaries

John Forbis has never doubted the need to preserve the vibrant coastal habitat around his home on the Connecticut River, but he nonetheless gets a reminder every summer when his grandson, Max, arrives for an extended visit.

OUR WORK

Oysters help combat erosion
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Ongoing Funding Would Keep Virginia on Track to Restore Native Oysters

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Data Visualization

Ongoing Funding Would Keep Virginia on Track to Restore Native Oysters

With steady investments over the past decade, Virginia and a broad coalition have created the world’s largest oyster restoration project, which has driven ecological recovery in the Chesapeake Bay.