Nearshore waters from the coast to several miles offshore in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea harbor some of the most important habitats on Earth. A complex mosaic of life thrives in these areas: Oysters filter water as they build their shells; coral reefs shelter and feed fish of all sizes; seagrass nourishes turtles, salmon, and manatees; kelp forests conceal otters and gray whales from predators; and mangroves and salt marshes buffer the land while hosting diverse bird colonies.
But these vital habitats are under threat. These natural assets are relentlessly battered by development; pollution; increasing commercial activity in coastal waters; changing ocean conditions; and more and stronger storms.
Federal laws and programs can provide meaningful protection for coastal areas, such as the essential fish habitat conservation provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System established through the Coastal Zone Management Act. States also have tools to govern coastal areas that allow for research, conservation, and sustainable management of natural resources.
Through engagement with policymakers and stakeholders, integration of science in decision-making, and public education and outreach, The Pew Charitable Trusts pursues three goals for measurable conservation gains for U.S. coastal habitat and fisheries management: