The Massachusetts coastal zone encompasses dozens of habitats. From open water to salt marsh to sandy dune, these habitats provide coastal plants and animals with their requirements for life, including food, shelter, and the basic conditions for survival. These habitats also serve important functions for people, from providing recreational and economic resources to filtering pollutants and reducing storm damage on the coast. The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) strives to better understand coastal habitats and the complex interactions that sustain them and works to protect and restore these valuable resources.

The CZM Coastal Habitat Program includes:

  • Coastal Wetland Monitoring and Assessment - Coastal wetlands are unique, valuable, and highly productive ecosystems. While direct destruction of wetlands has been dramatically curtailed with regulatory protection, adverse effects from indirect sources—such as contamination from road runoff and septic systems, toxic spills, and subsurface water withdrawal—continue to degrade wetlands. To address this issue, CZM works to monitor coastal wetlands and assess their environmental health. These web pages include information on: a rapid assessment method for evaluating wetland health, a conservation assessment and prioritization system for wetlands, CZM wetland assessment projects conducted from 1999-2004, background information on the ecology and status of Massachusetts wetlands, and links to related wetlands programs and other information.
  • Coastal Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) - CELCP provides state and local governments with matching funds to purchase significant coastal and estuarine lands (or conservation easements on such lands) that are considered important for their ecological, conservation, recreational, historical, or aesthetic values. Projects are nominated by the states to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who reviews and ranks the nominations in a national competitive process before awarding these federal grants. CZM coordinates the nomination process for Massachusetts.
  • A Volunteer's Handbook for Monitoring New England Salt Marshes - This handbook was developed by CZM as a tool to help local volunteer groups collect and record data on salt marsh health in a consistent and scientifically sound manner—but is also an excellent general reference on Massachusetts salt marshes. It provides detailed information on: the ecology, importance, and conservation of New England salt marshes; how to design a monitoring program; plants and animals found in salt marshes; and technical factors, such as salinity and hydrology.
  • Parker River/Essex Bay Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) Fellowship Project - The Great Marsh ACEC (originally called the Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC) includes 25,500 acres of barrier beach, dunes, saltmarsh, and water bodies in Essex, Gloucester, Ipswich, Newbury, and Rowley. In 1999 and 2000, CZM hosted a coastal fellow who worked with CZM to improve stewardship efforts in this ACEC. A detailed inventory that describes the natural resources of the area, a natural resource management assessment, and many other outreach and technical assistance materials were developed through this project.
  • Aquatic Habitat Restoration Task Force - In May 2007, the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs launched this task force, which was chaired by CZM and included broad and balanced membership and equal representation from government and non-government entities. In May 2008, the Secretary released the Task Force’s final report and recommendations, Charting the Course: A Blueprint for the Future of Aquatic Habitat Restoration in Massachusetts, which includes six recommendations to guide the efforts of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and its partners to achieve greater restoration results for the next several years and into the next decade.
  • Publications - This page provides links to these and other publications on coastal habitat published by CZM.

From 2003-2009, CZM administered the state’s Wetlands Restoration Program (WRP), which has since merged with the Riverways Program to create a new Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) within the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game. DER focuses on pro-active ecological restoration of coastal and inland aquatic systems—an important step in the advancement of restoration efforts in the Commonwealth. CZM continues to work with DER on priority projects in the coastal zone.

In addition, CZM directed the coastal Areas of Critical Environmental Concern Program until 1993, when the program was transferred to the Department of Conservation and Recreation (who covers both coastal and inland ACECs). ACECs are places in Massachusetts that receive special recognition because of the quality, uniqueness, and significance of their natural and cultural resources. These areas are identified and nominated at the community level and are reviewed and designated by the state’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. ACEC designation creates a framework for local and regional stewardship of critical resources and ecosystems. CZM continues to assist communities in coastal ACECs in coordination with DCR’s ACEC Program.

For additional information on Massachusetts coastal habitats, see the Winter 2005/2005 Coastlines pdf format of    Coastlines 2004-2005  file size 37MB magazine.