The coastal ocean encompasses a broad range of saltwater ecosystems, including estuaries, coral reefs, rocky shores, gravel shores, sandy shores, mud flats, marshes and mangrove forests. These ecosystems exist where streams and rivers meet the sea and where tides and coastal currents mix.
Coastal ocean ecosystems provide countless ecological and economic benefits. At least two-thirds of the nation’s commercial fish and shellfish use these ecosystems for spawning grounds and nurseries. In addition, the wetlands associated with estuaries buffer uplands from flooding. Coastal areas also provide many recreational opportunities, which contribute to a community’s economic health.
However, our coastal ecosystems are facing growing environmental pressures from pollution, land and resource use, invasive species, climate change and extreme events. Today, over 50 percent of the nation’s population lives within 50 miles of the coastline. Such population pressure, which is expected to grow in the future, brings with it increased development, agriculture and aquaculture. Such activities contribute to reductions in mangroves, coastal wetlands, seagrasses and coral reefs at alarming rates. In addition, coastal ocean ecosystems are being affected by overfishing and destructive trawling techniques. Experts estimate that about 34 percent of the world’s coasts are at high risk of degradation.
One of the ways that CCMA scientists are addressing the many problems facing the coastal ocean is through the Coastal Ocean Assessment Status and Trends Team's harmful algal bloom (HAB) bulletins which alert coastal resource managers to the potential effect of HABs on estuaries. This team is also conducting climatology studies to facilitate eutrophication (excess nutrient loading) forecasting based on precipitation measurements.