Resilient Coastal Sites 

for Conservation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic

“With this new report, we finally can look across the entirety of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic with an eye to the future to find the best natural places to buffer coastal communities from storms while sustaining our valuable coastal fish and wildlife resources. Resilient Coastal Sites has the potential to catalyze a host of proactive steps by local communities concerned about the long-term prospects for their coastal resources.”
-Wendi Weber, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Northeast Regional Director

New 2017 Study:     Coastal areas provide critical habitat for wildlife and are home to more than 40 percent of the U.S. population. Yet coastal sites vary widely in their ability to accommodate rising seas, based on inherent natural features and the degree of human influence on key ecological processes. Scientists from The Nature Conservancy evaluated over 10,000 coastal sites in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for their capacity to sustain biodiversity and natural services under increasing inundation from sea level rise.  Each site received a resilience “score” based on the likelihood that its coastal habitats can and will migrate to adjacent lowlands. The results can be used to: 
  • Identify areas for restoration 
  • Prioritize land acquisition
  • Develop effective strategies to sustain the natural benefits of coastal habitats
  • Understand the relative resilience or vulnerability of critical areas

Findings:     With no action, the region could see an estimated 83% loss of existing tidal habitats to severe inundation, yet there are thousands of individual sites where tidal habitats could increase and expand through landward migration, reversing this trend.  With proper management, these resilient sites could offset over 50% of tidal habitat loss, providing critical habitat for birds and other wildlife, and buffering people from the effects of storms and floods. Conservation of these resilient sites is critical if we are to sustain nature’s diversity and benefits into the future.

Map:     This map shows a portion of the study area along the Northeast US Coast with zoom-ins of the results for the five sub-regions.  Click the map to open the interactive map showing some of  the analysis results.

Partners:     This two year project was guided by a steering committee of 35 scientists from: The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atomospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Massachusetts, Maine Natural Heritage Program, Delaware Natural Heritage Program, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Products:     The results estimate the relative resilience or vulnerability of each coastal site to six possible scenarios of sea level rise (from 1 to 6 feet). Results are summarized in a report, web map, and set of story maps (coming soon) that explain the science and allow users to explore various scenarios.  The resulting GIS datasets are also available for download.  Products are listed under Resources on the right of this page.

Funding:  This research was funded by a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative.  Funding has been secured through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as well as the Gaylord and Donnelley Foundation to extend this work through the Southeast and Gulf coasts of the U.S..