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Resilient Coastal Sites

Nearly half of all Americans live and work in coastal counties, areas that also provide critical habitat for a diversity of fish and wildlife. However, the capacity for these places to support human and natural communities in the face of rising sea levels varies widely. In response to this threat, scientists from The Nature Conservancy evaluated more than 10,000 coastal sites in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to determine their ability to provide a natural buffer to communities from increasing inundation by rising seas, as well as their capacity to sustain biodiversity.

Go to the Product(s)

The following products can also be found on The Nature's Conservancy's Resilient Coastal Sites website:

  • Executive summary: Identifying resilient coastal sites
  • 2017 report: Resilient coastal sites for conservation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic
  • Interactive web map: View the relative resilience of coastal sites throughout the region under six possible sea-level rise scenarios 

Additional Resources

Link to webinar: View a streaming recording of the Science Seminar led by Mark Anderson and Analie Barnett from The Nature Conservancy on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, titled: "Resilient Coastal Sites: Estimating and Mapping the Resilience of Coastal Sites in the North Atlantic LCC region"

Technical description

Sea levels are expected to rise by 1 to 6 feet over the next century, and coastal sites vary markedly in their ability to accommodate such inundation. Sites flanked by extensive lowlands provide space for the coastal habitats within to migrate landward in response to sea level rise (SLR). The amount of space available for habitat migration is determined by the landforms, topography, and elevation rise surrounding the tidal zone. However, that potential habitat migration can be strongly influenced by human activities. Even a site that is naturally predisposed to allow for migration may not be able to accommodate sea-level rise if development or disturbances interfere with natural processes. For example, hardened shoreline can create barriers to migration, a lack of sediment can prevent the necessary accumulation of substrate, and an overabundance of nitrogen can disrupt root development, destabilizing the marsh. 

In this study, Conservancy scientists evaluated 10,736 sites in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for the size, configuration and adequacy of their migration space, and for the natural processes necessary to support the migration of coastal habitats in response to sea-level rise (SLR). 

Key findings:

With no action, this region could see an 83% loss of existing tidal habitats to severe inundation. But with proper management, there are thousands of individual sites where tidal habitats could increase and expand through landward migration, reversing this trend.  These resilient sites could offset more than 50% of tidal habitat loss, providing critical habitat for birds and 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 benefits into the future.  

The results identify the most resilient coastal sites within five coastal shoreline regions that represent different types of estuaries (Map below).  Within each shoreline region, the Conservancy:

  • Calculated the average amount of functional migration space across all sites.
  • Scored individual sites by the degree of variation from the average. 
  • Scaled the results to the scenario of 6 feet SLR to identify the sites that were most resilient under severe, but possible, conditions.  

Case Studies and News Stories

Majority of RI, MA coastal sites are vulnerable to effects of climate change - Rhode Island Public Radio

Beyond the storm: science for managing our changing coast - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conserving the Nature of the Northeast blog

Project Contact(s):

, Director of Conservation Science at The Nature Conservancy

LCC Staff Contact(s):

, Science Coordinator

Resilient Coastal Sites
Product Type(s):
Foundation Information
Maps, Spatial Datasets, and Databases
Assessments and Research Results
Decision Support Tools
Interactive tools and models
Resource Type: Birds, Ecosystems, Fish, Invertebrates, Plants
Conservation Targets: Coastal and Marine
Conservation Framework: Biological Planning, Conservation Delivery
Threats/Stressors: Climate change impacts, Development/Urban Growth, Sea-level rise and storm impacts
Conservation Action: Site/area protection, Site/area management

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