The Nature Conservancy Resilient Coastal Sites for Conservation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic

In 2017, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) released a report and interactive web map that identify priority sites in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions that have the ability to maximize both biodiversity and natural services in response to increasing threats of sea level rise. TNC, in partnership with a variety of stakeholders and scientists from other nonprofit organizations, universities, and state and federal agencies, conducted a two-year study to evaluate more than 10,000 individual sites throughout the region. TNC assigned each site a “resilience score” based on the capacity for a site’s coastal habitats to migrate to adjacent lowlands. This data can help state and local decision makers identify and prioritize coastal habitats for long-term restoration, conservation, and preservation purposes through tools such as land acquisitions and conservation easements, and zoning and land-use policies.

Within the next 100 years, the ocean is expected to rise between one and six feet, inundating coastlines. Coastal habitat migration is determined by evaluating multiple environmental factors, such as available space for habitat migration, landforms, topography, and elevation, in combination with surrounding human land uses and development, like a sea wall, that could potentially act as a barrier. In this report, TNC estimates that if policymakers take no action to identify open land and remove these migration barriers, the northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions combined could see upwards of an 83 percent loss in their existing coastal habitats. With action, however, certain sites could be preserved by at least 50 percent. In order to help policymakers take action and maximize conservation benefits at sites impacted by climate change, TNC examined thousands of specific sites throughout the U.S. northeast and Mid-Atlantic corridor and assigned each a Resilience Score. Specifically, TNC evaluated 10,736 sites for the size, configuration, and adequacy of their migration space, as well as for the natural processes that are needed to allow for the migration of coastal habitats in response to sea-level rise.

Resilience scores were based on multiple habitat characteristics - including the amount of adjacent migration space, size of tidal complex, amount of buffer area, percent of natural cover, and connectedness of wetlands - that were assigned various weights. In total, the resilience score represents the ability of a site to adapt to sea-level-rise - in which the higher the score, the more adaptable. Sites with a higher resilience score should thus be prioritized for protection.

Moving forward, the results of this report can inform actions policymakers in order to restore, conserve, and preserve habitats by taking actions such as developing plans for restoration sites, deciding where infrastructure and construction will have the least impact on habitat migration, and determining where existing infrastructure could be eliminated.

The report’s findings (i.e., the location of sites evaluated and their resilience scores) are also provided in an interactive web map. TNC has conducted additional projects evaluating the resilience of coastal habitats, including on the U.S. West Coast with its Hope for the Coast campaign.


Publication Date: 2017

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