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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Getty
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The Oregon coast is one of the state’s most valuable natural resources. It draws hundreds of thousands of visitors who explore tide pools, fish, surf, paint, take photos, walk on the beach, fly a kite, or take in a sunset. The majestic cliffs and offshore rocks provide habitat for more than 1 million seabirds. Submerged reefs and kelp forests produce food and refuge for a wide variety of fish and other marine wildlife. This environment is a spectacular living laboratory for students and scientists.

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5 Missions of National Estuarine Research Reserve System

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Fact Sheet

5 Missions of National Estuarine Research Reserve System

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) is a growing network of 29 sensitive coastal areas across 23 states and Puerto Rico. Congress established the system in the early 1970s, as part of the Coastal Zone Management Act, to protect and facilitate the study of our nation’s estuaries.