Changing Tides: How Sea-level Rise Harms Wildlife and Recreation Economies Along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard

From the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), “Changing Tides” delineates the risks of sea-level rise to wildlife, recreation, and local economies by outlining key impacts in 15 eastern U.S. states: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. NWF also offers policy solutions for both mitigation and adaptation to climate change. 

The report focuses on nine ways in which sea-level rise is predicted to affect East Coast natural systems that are vital for wildlife, recreation economies, and local communities including: increased coastal flooding, saltwater intrusion, beach erosion, loss of wetland buffer zones, greater damage from weather events, loss of property values, loss of hunting and fishing opportunity, loss of outdoor recreation income, and cultural impacts.

Described through a regional lens of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast East Coast, these primary impacts are then attributed by state. Detail is given on how climate impacts will specifically affect National Wildlife Refuges, and recreation areas in each state.

While Pennsylvania is not a coastal state, it is also described as it is still experiencing the impacts of sea-level rise. The Delaware Estuary flows into the southeast part of the state, and as sea level rises, cities, communities, habitats, fish and wildlife species along Delaware River tidal areas, including Philadelphia, will be at risk.


piping plover changing tides report


The report offers strategies for the “Two Pillars for Climate Action” of mitigation and adaptation. NWF describes how some measures can function as both climate mitigation and adaptation. For example, enhancing and protecting coastal habitats such as wetlands and mangroves can play an important role in reducing climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while at the same time protecting coastal communities from sea-level rise and storm surge.

Adaptation recommendations include:

  • Assess coastal climate risks and craft plans to reduce those risks
  • Curb development that degrades the resilience of coastal ecosystems
  • Improve opportunities for habitat migration
  • Reform coastal permitting policies to encourage natural infrastructure
  • Reform the National Flood Insurance Program to stop encouraging development in risky areas
  • Ensure adaptation policies benefit all members of society, including those most vulnerable


NWF tells us that: the East Coast is fortunate to have a tremendous diversity of tidal waterways, wetlands, barrier islands, and other coastal habitats, which support a wide variety of fish and wildlife species and enhance the economies and quality of life of nearby communities. Each year, beach visitation, recreational fishing, and wildlife viewing activities alone contribute tens of billions of dollars to East Coast states. These unique ecosystems provide crucial habitat for wildlife such as fish and waterfowl and also serve as natural buffers against potentially damaging  storms and, increasingly, against rising sea levels.




Publication Date: August 15, 2016

Related Organizations:


  • Coastal
  • Fish and fisheries
  • Land management and conservation
  • Wildlife

Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment

States Affected:


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