Military and Government Leaders Recruit Nature to Protect Shoreline

Officials seek to conserve vast area of salt marsh as bulwark against storm surge, erosion, flooding

Navigate to:

Military and Government Leaders Recruit Nature to Protect Shoreline
Amphibious Bold Alligator Exercise
Soldiers conduct amphibious training exercises along the beach at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Lejeune is one of nearly a dozen military installations situated along the storm-prone Southeast U.S. coast.
Fred Marie Art in All of Us

Along the U.S. Southeast coast, communities and military installations face a common enemy—floods, erosion, and rising seas. In response, military and government leaders are looking to fight nature with nature.

A group of regional government and military officials launched an initiative Tuesday aimed at conserving a 1 million-acre stretch of salt marsh—nearly the size of Grand Canyon National Park—from Northeast Florida to North Carolina. Salt marshes, which are sinewy channels of coastal grasslands, protect coastlines from flooding, erosion, and storm surge, filter upland runoff, and serve as vital habitat for fish, birds, and other animals.

The decision comes from the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability, known as SERPPAS, which includes members of the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies along with state environmental and natural resource officials from across the Southeast. The body agreed to begin crafting a long-range plan that would outline the steps needed to conserve the expanse of salt marsh.

Salt marsh provides Southeast communities and military installations an average of $695,000 per square mile annually in protective value from storm surge, flooding, and other problems, according to a 2020 study. About a dozen military bases and training grounds are located along or close to the Southeast coastline.

Tidal wetlands also can protect coastlines but are facing threats of their own, including rising seas, polluted runoff, and poorly planned development. The initiative focuses on salt marshes because they can adjust to rising water levels by migrating inland or to adjacent areas if that path isn’t blocked by roads, buildings, or other structures. A salt marsh plan could help communities and the military better prepare for the future through coordinated, forward-thinking transportation and development, targeted restoration projects, and conservation of adjacent open lands.

SERPPAS is joining with The Pew Charitable Trusts, local officials, and fishing, hunting, birding, boating, and conservation organizations to build partnerships to protect salt marshes into the future. Interested parties will have an opportunity to work on the conservation plan by identifying actions that will help support national defense, conserve natural resources, and promote sustainable working lands, waters, and communities. Aside from protecting shorelines, salt marshes host species that are crucial to recreational and commercial fishing, hunting, birding, eco-tourism, and other activities that support coastal businesses and economies.

The conservation effort will be modeled after America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, another SERPPAS project and a collaborative effort of multiple public and private sector partners to protect and restore native pine forests that were decimated by development and logging. That initiative focuses on weaving fragmented stands of longleaf pine to repair an ecological tapestry that benefits upland ecosystems, wildlife—including red-cockaded woodpeckers and gopher tortoises—military installations, and communities.

A decade into the initiative’s 15-year plan, more than 1.3 million acres of new longleaf stands have been established, representing a 40 percent increase from a historic low of 3.2 million acres across the Southeast. The success stands as an example of bringing diverse stakeholder interests together to work on a common cause.

The new salt marsh initiative should provide a forward-looking, comprehensive plan to conserve and restore one of the last vast areas of this vital habitat in the United States. We hope that with all parties working together, this voluntary partnership can find solutions that will help the military, coastal communities, and economies for generations to come.

Holly Binns and Joseph Gordon are project directors with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ conserving marine life in the United States project.

Spotlight on Mental Health

CMLUS
CMLUS

America's Coastal Habitats Are Worth Protecting

Quick View

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.

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies

Explore

Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.