Coastal and marine habitats include tidal marshes, wetlands, seagrass beds, kelp forests, tidal flats, and rivers, to name just a few. These habitats provide homes for marine animals, foraging and nursery grounds for fish and shellfish, nesting and stopover areas for birds, and opportunities for people to learn about and enjoy nature. They also provide a buffer against the forces of nature, dampening the destructive effects of wind, waves, and flood. Commercial and recreational fishing industries and a burgeoning tourism industry depend on healthy, functioning coastal and marine habitats. But these habitats are under siege. The nation’s coastal and marine habitats have fallen victim to their own desirability and usefulness.
Each year thousands of people move to the coast to enjoy coastal areas and marine habitats. The number of people living in coastal areas in the United States is now over fifty percent of the population. This number is expected to increase dramatically in the future. For this reason, coastal areas face extraordinary pressures related to population growth and associated development, resource harvesting, and recreation. Numerous oil spills, ship groundings, toxic chemical releases, and other disasters befall marine habitats each year. These risks facing our nation’s marine habitats are expected to increase. Developing and using technically sound habitat restoration measures can help ensure that these areas of exceptional diversity survive the challenges of the twenty-first century. Habitat restoration and conservation are essential for sustaining and rebuilding our ailing resources.
Habitat restoration in the Gulf of Maine and its watershed:
- Maintains vital food supplies. Healthy coastal habitats produce as much food per acre as farmland because of the fertile mix of nutrients from land and sea.
- Protects nature’s bounty. Beyond providing food for our consumption, coastal habitats are the home of thousands of species of fish, birds, plants, and animals that depend on healthy habitat for their survival.
- Protects human health. Outbreaks of toxic microbes—causing massive fish kills—have harmed human health in those exposed to the toxic microbe, causing skin lesions and even memory loss. That’s one possible result when estuaries and coastal and upland habitats are allowed to decline. But when they are restored, they produce healthy fish and wildlife that contribute to human health and enjoyment.
- Maintains biodiversity. The coastal and marine environment is a major source of biodiversity. Restoring a variety of coastal and marine habitats provides for healthy communities of plants and animals, including endangered and threatened species, to maintain ecological balance within natural systems.
- Creates jobs. There are millions of jobs in the fishing, tourism, and recreational boating industries—all of which depend on healthy coastal habitats for their products and customers. Estuaries and coastal waters may provide habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish species.
- Preserves a way of life. Healthy estuaries and coastal resources support unique, centuries-old cultures, traditions and ways of life dependent upon the marine environment’s diversity for everything from livelihoods to storytelling. For the millions of people who live near coastal habitats, they are linchpins in quality of life: for their scenic beauty, for their recreational opportunities, for their bounty and abundance of life, for their mere presence. Habitat restorations will help maintain these ways of life—and the heritage they embody—for the benefit of future generations.