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CZM Coastal Habitat Program - Protection, Restoration, and Resilience

Find information on Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) efforts to protect and restore coastal habitats, including understanding resiliency in the context of climate change and other stressors.

The CZM Coastal Habitat Program seeks to effectively manage coastal habitats through inter-agency collaboration, research, and development of datasets to better understand coastal systems. The program also provides technical assistance focused on the importance of coastal habitats, potential impacts of climate change, and data-driven management actions for restoration and resiliency. This web page covers the program areas listed in this Table of Contents.

Table of Contents

Coastal Habitat Protection and Restoration

CZM’s coastal habitat protection and restoration activities are centered around two enforceable Habitat Polices as described within the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management Policy Guide:

  • Habitat Policy #1 - Protect coastal, estuarine, and marine habitats—including salt marshes, shellfish beds, submerged aquatic vegetation, dunes, beaches, barrier beaches, banks, salt ponds, eelgrass beds, tidal flats, rocky shores, bays, sounds, and other ocean habitats—and coastal freshwater streams, ponds, and wetlands to preserve critical wildlife habitat and other important functions and services including nutrient and sediment attenuation, wave and storm damage protection, and landform movement and processes.
  • Habitat Policy #2 - Advance the restoration of degraded or former habitats in coastal and marine areas.

As coastal habitats provide critical ecosystem and other services, they are also protected by state and federal regulations. CZM coordinates closely with agency partners to review projects to ensure they comply with these requirements. For summaries of these regulatory programs, see Environmental Permitting in Coastal Massachusetts and Federal Consistency Review Program for more information specific to the CZM project review process.

In addition, CZM coordinates closely with the Division of Ecological Restoration within the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game and other stakeholders to promote and support coastal habitat restoration efforts. CZM also directly funds habitat projects through the following grants:

Salt Marsh Working Group

The Salt Marsh Working Group (SMWG) was formed through a partnership between CZM and the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst in 2018 as a subgroup of the Massachusetts Ecosystem Climate Adaptation Network (Mass ECAN). SMWG serves as a forum for salt marsh researchers, practitioners, and managers to advance the state of science on salt marshes and climate resiliency. Over 80 participants across New England meet regularly to advance priorities, brainstorm ideas, and share research findings. The goals of SMWG are to: facilitate coordinated efforts to assess and monitor salt marshes; inform statewide and regional strategies for the prioritization, conservation, and restoration of salt marshes; share synthesized science and knowledge of climate impacts on salt marsh and the vulnerability of these systems to climate stressors; inform best practices for salt marsh climate adaptation efforts; and design collaborative funding approaches to support research.

Form more information on SWMG projects, see:

  • Gaining Ground: Defining Priority Research for Resilient Salt Marshes (PDF, 336 KB) - SMWG has identified three intersecting priorities to support collaboration and research that promotes resilient salt marsh habitat now and into the future. The purpose of this summary document is to communicate SMWG research priorities—developed over a year-long, consensus-based process—and to inspire coordinated, transdisciplinary discussion and action around the complex and intersecting challenges of salt marsh management and resilience.
  • Coastal Resilience - This UMass Amherst Gloucester Marine Station web page provides information and links associated with SMWG.
  • Mass ECAN Salt Marsh Working Group Project Viewer - This online viewer allows users to input information about salt marsh projects and view ongoing research in Massachusetts and the region.

Fellow Project on Resilient Coastal Habitats

From 2017-2019, CZM hosted a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Management Fellow to work on the following project: “Resilient Coastal Habitats: Maintaining Critical Ecosystem Services in the Face of Environmental Change.” Through this effort, CZM completed a vulnerability assessment of the Sandy Neck Barrier Beach System Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The assessment investigated the current and future impacts of factors such as nonpoint source pollution, development pressure, invasive species, and sea level rise on coastal habitats in the ACEC that provide critical ecosystem services such as wildlife habitat, nursery areas for commercially important species, and storm damage protection. Site-specific data collection and analysis, including field data collection and an assessment of stream crossings impacting the watersheds of the ACEC, were used to investigate the vulnerability of different habitats. A technical advisory committee that included staff from the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Division of Ecological Restoration continually informed the project. CZM staff gave presentations on the project at multiple local and national meetings, including a Sandy Neck Symposium, where local stakeholders provided feedback on the assessment. The two primary products developed through this project are: 

  • Crossing Assessment for the Sandy Neck Barrier Beach System Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) (PDF, 24 MB) - Published in 2019, this assessment of selected crossings (i.e., culverts, bridges, and other structures that allow streams and rivers to flow under roads, paths, and rail beds) provides preliminary data for identifying and prioritizing restoration opportunities in the Sandy Neck ACEC watersheds.
  • Coastal Habitat Vulnerability Assessment for the Sandy Neck Barrier Beach System Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) - in development. CZM conducted a vulnerability assessment of the critically important coastal habitats located in the ACEC. The goal of this assessment was to address the resiliency of these habitats to climate change and other anthropogenic impacts. This report provides recommendations and action steps that address issues such as habitat restoration, wildlife, land management, and planning and capacity building and may be used to begin to improve the resiliency of the ACEC and coastal habitats statewide.

Coastal Habitat Adaptation

The increasing recognition of the threats of climate change to critical coastal habitats has led to widespread concern and an acknowledgment of the need to explore, identify, and begin implementation of efforts to support adaptation. CZM continues to work with agency staff and other stakeholders to ensure that implemented strategies are scientifically sound, provide the intended results within acceptable impact limits, and are viable for the short and long term. As novel adaptation techniques advance, CZM will publish guidance and best practices on methods to help coastal habitats adapt to sea level rise and climate changes.

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