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How healthy are coastal habitats?

A diverse team of experts recently completed the first landscape scale assessment of coastal habitats for the Long Island Sound Estuary.
How healthy are coastal habitats?

Photo: Jennifer Murray

It is well documented that coastal ecosystems are among the most valuable habitats on earth, providing numerous benefits to wildlife and people -- resting areas for migrating birds, nurseries for commercially important fish, carbon sequestration, storm-surge protection, the list goes on. 

However even though lots of time and money is invested in efforts to protect and restore coastal areas and associated benefits, an analysis of wetlands released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2017 indicates that losses may be outpacing gains. 

But we have reason for hope. A team of coastal ecology experts in the Long Island Sound Estuary recently completed the first landscape scale assessment for this area. The framework they developed quantifies the health of priority habitats, including forests, rivers, and wetlands. Their work, “Advancing Coastal Habitat Resiliency through Landscape-Scale Assessment” is published in the Journal of Coastal Management, January 2018. 

Given the steady pace of coastal habitat decline, this type of assessment can be used to drive meaningful progress. The framework developed for the Long Island Sound highlights present day habitat condition, which can prompt discussions about the level of habitat function that society wants to restore and protect. As such, the assessment provides a means by which to set holistic, landscape-scale goals and track progress.

As more frequent storms affect our coasts, Americans increasingly realize the value of intact, healthy habitats. Leveraging landscape assessments can lead to more effective habitat conservation. Effective conservation, particularly in urban coastal areas, is increasingly important as we continue to learn how the well-being of humans, the economy, and nature are connected. 

Read the paper in the Journal of Coastal Management.

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