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.

The Estuary, in Coos Bay, Oregon
The Estuary, in Coos Bay, Oregon
Event

Can States Set 'Blue Carbon' Baselines to Meet Climate Goals?

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Event

As awareness grows of the important contributions of “blue carbon” habitats—such as salt marsh, tidal forested wetlands, and seagrass beds—in sequestering carbon and reducing climate change impacts, states are beginning to incorporate these coastal ecosystems into their strategies for reducing emissions and enhancing carbon storage through improved management of natural and working lands.

Birds fill the sky over the Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve, the newest in the 30-site federal system.
Birds fill the sky over the Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve, the newest in the 30-site federal system.
Article

Officials Commemorate New Connecticut Reserve

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Article

Connecticut federal officials joined state community leaders and conservationists in late May to celebrate a milestone conservation achievement: designation of the nation’s newest National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), which encompasses about 52,000 acres in southeastern Connecticut.

American alligator
American alligator
Article

Louisiana Seeks to Stem Coastal Wetlands Declines

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Article

Despite having the fifth-longest coastline in the U.S. and the country’s largest area of coastal wetlands, Louisiana is the only coastal state without a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). Officials there are now beginning the extensive process to change that.

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.

OUR WORK

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.