Coastal ecosystems, those transition zones between land and sea, are where so much life begins. Wetlands and estuaries serve as nurseries for fish and key habitat for seabirds. Seagrass beds are home to sea turtles and manatees, and mangroves shelter a world of colorful, alien-like invertebrates, including crabs and shrimp.
These ecosystems are also essential buffers against the encroaching impacts of climate change. Coastal wetlands, marshes, seagrass beds and mangroves remove up to four times more carbon from the atmosphere than land-based ecosystems. They provide critical protection against storm surges and coastal flooding, and help prevent shoreline erosion to keep coasts intact and prevent beaches from disappearing.
Historically, the United States hasn’t been so kind to these life-giving places. When European settlers arrived on the coasts here, they drained many wetlands because they thought these areas were not only breeding grounds for disease but also impediments to development.
This practice continues today, as wetlands are still drained for agriculture and development, or threatened by dams diverting their water. And now, they face the added threat of climate change: some are losing water as groundwater levels fall, and some are at risk of flooding due to sea level rise. The West Coast alone has lost about 85% of its wetlands and the east coast is losing wetlands at twice the rate they’re being restored.