Reserve Findings Fortify Coastal Communities

The Takeaway: Data from the System-Wide Monitoring Program inform adaptation projects throughout the coastal zone.

Coastal wetlands represent the strongest natural defense against rising flood, storm, and sea level rise impacts, preventing more than $625 million in property damages during Hurricane Sandy and reducing property damages throughout the Northeast by an average of 10 percent.

Environmental monitoring by the National Estuarine Research Reserves uncovers evidence of coastal hazard threats and encourages innovations that limit wetland-harming activities. Examples are provided below.

  • Testing by sixteen reserves found that Pacific Coast tidal marshes are better positioned to thrive amid rising seas than those on the Atlantic Coast. Reserve scientists developed the first methodology designed to document climate change impacts on marshlands and produced a “do it yourself” resilience calculator for use by all coastal communities.
  • In Wisconsin, data from the Lake Superior Reserve played a central role in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for using dredged materials to restore marsh areas and make them sheltered and storm-resistant. Data from California’s San Francisco Bay Reserve were used in a Marin County project when officials needed to decide the best dredge-material reuse approach for restoring marsh areas and lowering hazard risks.
  • In New Hampshire, data from the Great Bay Reserve were used to study sea level change impacts. The resulting 2017 report by statewide partners recommends increased coastal buffers and living shorelines, hazard mitigation outreach, and many other protective measures.
  • Data from Florida’s Guana Tolomato Matanzas Reserve were used to determine the distance different marine species are ranging from their typical area. This information has wide-ranging implications for animal and ecosystem health.
  • In California, Elkhorn Slough Reserve data are being used to uncover the drivers behind marsh loss, marsh drowning, and wetland migration as well as the factors behind successful wetland restoration projects. And at the Francisco Bay Reserve, data are being used to evaluate a living shorelines pilot project. The living shorelines approach is playing a key role in the Bay region’s resilience efforts.
  • In Rhode Island, a researcher at the Narragansett Bay Reserve is studying summer changes in tick populations, which are influenced by rising humidity and temperature. The goal is to improve public-health alerts on tick-borne disease and help officials do a better job of managing deer populations.
  • Data from the Chesapeake Bay Reserve-Maryland played a critical role in Changing Chesapeake, a comprehensive report on how a changing climate is impacting nutrients, human health, aquatic vegetation, and growing seasons.
  • In Florida, the Apalachicola Bay Reserve’s data on Gulf surface elevation, saltmarsh vegetation, and salinity change figure prominently in Gulf of Mexico efforts to monitor sea level change and impacts. (2017)

More Information: System-Wide Monitoring Program

Fast Fact: Did you know that areas behind existing salt marshes have, on average, 20 percent fewer property damages when compared to areas where salt marshes have been lost? For more statistics related to this story, check out Wetland Benefits and Research Reserves.