Project

Conserving Marine Life in the United States

Sections

East Coast
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Getty Images

The Eastern Seaboard is the United States’ most populated coastal area, home to millions of people and a destination for tourists from around the world. But along this vibrant coastline, marine life and habitats, such as right whales, wild oysters, seagrass, and estuaries, face critical dangers that also threaten the future of those who live, work, and visit along the nearly 2,000-mile Atlantic Coast.

To help meet these challenges and as a part of Pew’s longstanding work to support effective marine conservation, we are partnering with local communities, scientists, and other stakeholders to protect coastal habitats, restore oyster populations, and promote the recovery of key species. 

Among the most urgent crises is the plight of endangered North Atlantic right whales. Once hunted nearly to extinction, the population had been rebuilding for decades. But in recent years, the trend reversed, with entanglement in lobster and crab trap ropes and ship strikes identified as primary reasons. With only an estimated 400 right whales left, immediate solutions are needed to save this species while sustaining the economically and culturally important fisheries involved.

Closer to shore, states have an opportunity to dramatically improve water quality, increase storm protection, create habitat, and grow a stronger seafood industry by restoring native oyster populations. Despite overharvesting, habitat destruction, and water pollution, which have reduced the numbers of wild oysters by about 90 percent along the East Coast, recovery is possible with careful planning.

Beneath the waves, seagrass—another essential habitat—has been declining for decades and needs urgent protection. Seagrass serves as nursery grounds for most marine species, improves water quality, and prevents erosion. States can act to conserve and even expand what seagrass remains.

Finally, forage fish still need stronger protection. These small fish, which serve as prey for larger marine species, are at risk of over-exploitation. The latest science calls for precautionary management to safeguard the health and productivity of the marine food web.

Salt marsh
Salt marsh

How Southeast Stakeholders Are Safeguarding Salt Marshes

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Salt marshes are grassy coastal expanses with meandering channels that fill with seawater and drain again as tides ebb and flow. They provide food, shelter, and nursery grounds for birds, fish, and myriad other wildlife. Healthy salt marshes filter runoff, reduce erosion, stabilize shorelines, protect against storm surge, and support species that are crucial to recreational and commercial fishing, waterfowl hunting, birding, and other activities.

Girl Exploring the Outer Banks
Girl Exploring the Outer Banks
Article

Threatened Coastal Habitats Face Management Challenges

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Article

Coastal habitats in the U.S., many of which are vulnerable and declining, provide significant benefits to people, marine life, and the climate, and would benefit from comprehensive monitoring and management, according to a new white paper from Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability

Bait ball of blue jack mackerel. A bait ball is a defensive manoeuvre performed by schooling fish that makes it harder for the predators to pick out individuals.
Bait ball of blue jack mackerel. A bait ball is a defensive manoeuvre performed by schooling fish that makes it harder for the predators to pick out individuals.
Speeches & Testimony

To End Mackerel Overfishing, NOAA Should Reject Proposal

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Speeches & Testimony

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) should reject a new proposal for managing Atlantic mackerel because the plan would not do enough to reverse overfishing of the species.

 looking up from the bottom of an eelgrass bed
 looking up from the bottom of an eelgrass bed, and highlights the unusually clear conditions that we were fortunate to see that day.
Article

Clear Water Matters for North Carolina's Coast

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Article

Seagrasses and other underwater plants, known as submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), grow only in shallow estuarine waters rather than in deep water. Like plants on land, these marine flora—which provide critical habitat for economically important fish species and help protect coastlines and communities from shoreline erosion—need sunlight to grow.

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