The Official Website of the Massachusetts Bays Program

What is the Boston Harbor Habitat Atlas?


Boston from Thompson Island
Figure 1: Boston from Thompson Island

The Boston Harbor Habitat Atlas (the Atlas) is a set of web pages and interactive tools that were designed to identify the condition, extent, and protection/restoration opportunities for ecologically and economically important estuarine habitats in the Boston Harbor Watershed. Estuaries are coastal water bodies like Boston Harbor where freshwater from rivers and streams flows into the marine waters of the ocean. These areas are highly productive and contain vitally important and productive habitats that provide nursery and foraging areas for fin and shellfish; habitat for a variety of wildlife; protection from storm damage, flooding, and erosion; water filtration; and treatment of nonpoint source pollution.

The goals of the Atlas are to:

  1. Make existing information on the extent, condition, and protection and restoration potential of critical estuarine habitats easily available through a web based portal.

  2. Identify top protection and restoration needs and opportunities in the Boston Harbor Watershed.

  3. Provide a forum for collaborating on restoration and protection initiatives.

  4. Assist organizations in leveraging additional resources for habitat protection and restoration activities.

Why Habitat?


Much attention has been paid to water quality in Boston Harbor. Long known as one of the dirtiest harbors in the country. The construction of the Deer Island treatment facility and outfall in the late 1990’s resulted in dramatically improved water quality in the harbor. While the legacy of sewage discharge into the harbor persists, and stormwater and CSO pollution remain a major environmental challenge, the improved conditions have resulted in the expansion and improvement of the condition of natural habitats opening the door for habitat restoration efforts.

The Boston Harbor Habitat Coalition completed a prioritization process to identify seven priority habitat types, which serve as the basis and focus of the Atlas. These habitats are:

  • Diadromous Fish
  • Intertidal Flats
  • Nearshore Submerged
  • Rocky Intertidal
  • Salt Marsh
  • Seagrass Beds
  • Shellfish Beds

Who is the Coalition?


The Boston Harbor Habitat Coalition is a group of more than 35 individuals representing over 30 agencies and organizations with interest in protecting and restoring the habitat of the Boston Harbor Watershed. The member organizations and agencies are listed below.

Boston Harbor Habitat Coalition Member Organizations

Boston Conservation Commission MassPort
The Boston Harbor Association Metropolitan Area Planning Council
Charles River Watershed Association MIT Sea Grant
Environmental Protection Agency Mystic River Watershed Association
Hingham Conservation Commission National Park Service
Hull Conservation Commission The Nature Conservancy
Massachusetts Bays Program Neponset River Watershed Association
Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation North and South Rivers Watershed Association
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Saugus River Watershed Council
Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration UMass Boston
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Urban Harbors Institute
Massachusetts Environmental Trust Wellesley College
Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management Weymouth Conservation Commission
Massachusetts Oyster Project Winthrop Conservation Commission
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority -

How does the Atlas Work?


The Atlas has two primary components. The first is a series of web pages (that you are reading now) that describe the extent, condition, and protection/restoration potential of the seven priority habitat types based on our review of the most current publications, reports, and GIS data. The web pages include both static images and interactive “open layers” maps, on which the user can pan and zoom.

The second component of the Atlas is an online mapping tool called the Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS). The developers of the MORIS, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, created a module specifically for the Boston Harbor Habitat Atlas. Through the MORIS module for the Atlas, the user can access much of the information that was used to describe the priority habitat types and view data showing the extent of these habitats as well as access the full catalogue of marine spatial data housed in MORIS.

MORIS Atlas Homepage
Click on the MORIS icon when it appears on any of the habitat pages to view predefined maps conveying relevant information about each habitat type in the MORIS.


MORIS Screenshot
Figure 2: Screenshot of MORIS Module for Boston Harbor Habitat Atlas

How do I get Involved?


Anyone who has interest in protecting and restoring the critical habitats of the Boston Harbor region can participate. To join the Boston Harbor Habitat Coalition distribution list, contact Lisa Engler of the Massachusetts Bays Program at lisa.engler@state.ma.us.

Partners and Funding


Project partners included:

UHI homepage MBP homepage CZM homepage

NepRWA homepage

Funding provided by:


MET homepage



Back to Top




Boston Harbor Habitat Atlas
Updated 6/4/2012