Conserving Habitat in a Changing Climate
The question is no longer if climate change will affect our valuable coastal and marine habitat, but instead—how will climate change impact habitat and its vital services and what can we do to help safeguard coastal and marine habitat in a changing climate.
Continued changes in climate will directly affect habitat distribution, abundance, and condition, which in turn will impact the fish, wildlife, and people that depend on them. Climate change will also increase threats and impacts to our nation's coastal habitat by compounding the effects of existing stressors, such as pollution, drought, floods, disease, invasive species, and development, and adding new stressors, such as ocean acidification.
Some of the most significant impacts from climate change include:
Sea Level Rise
- Many existing coastal habitats, such as wetlands and mangrove forests, will be submerged, and new wetlands might form if conditions are suitable for them to shift inland as sea level rises. In developed areas, dikes and hardened shorelines will prevent new wetlands from forming.
- Given current levels of development along our coasts, it is likely that there will be an overall reduction in coastal wetlands unless there are increased protection and restoration actions to help habitat migrate into new areas along the coast.
- Habitat loss due to sea level rise will reduce the ecological services (benefits arising from the ecological functions of healthy ecosystems) for fisheries production, coastal protection, recreation, and other activities with impacts on the communities and economies that depend on them.
Ocean Warming and Acidification
- Increasing sea surface temperatures are already impacting the distribution, abundance, and condition of coral reefs by increasing the impacts of coral bleaching and coral diseases that have contributed to widespread losses of valuable reef ecosystems.
- Warmer ocean temperatures might alter growth and distribution patterns for seagrass and other valuable coastal habitat, which are also sensitive to changes in salinity, light, depth, currents, and storm intensity—other attributes that could be impacted by climate change. Increasing ocean acidity could have serious impacts on fisheries production and the overall health and productivity of ocean ecosystems by preventing organisms at the base of ocean food chain from forming their shells and serving as the food base for other organisms.
Changes in Fresh Water Volume and Seasonality
- Physical changes to freshwater ecosystems resulting from climate change will degrade and diminish available riverine and estuarine habitat, reduce reproductive success, and jeopardize migration of important species such as salmon.
We will continue to work with our partners on developing and implementing conservation actions that promote healthy and resilient coastal habitat in a changing climate. This includes developing new approaches and improving existing strategies, including:
- Building living shorelines.
- Restoring vital habitat.
- Protecting habitat for current and future climate scenarios through conservation easements and consultations to minimize the impacts of federal actions on valuable habitat.