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Resilient Coastal Sites for Conservation in the Gulf of Mexico

“Resilient Coastal Sites has the potential to catalyze a host of proactive steps by local communities concerned about the long-term prospects for their coastal resources.”
-Wendi Weber, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coastal sites vary widely in their ability to accommodate rising seas, based on inherent natural features and the degree of human influence on key ecological processes. Scientists from The Nature Conservancy evaluated over 1,500 coastal sites in the Gulf of Mexico for their capacity to sustain biodiversity and natural services under increasing inundation from sea level.  Each site received a resilience “score” based on the likelihood that its coastal habitats can and will migrate to adjacent lowlands. The products of this study include: 
  • A report describing the methods used to evaluate sites and the results for each coastal shoreline region in the Gulf of Mexico 
  • A web tool allowing users to view and interact with the results for any coastal site 
  • A story map allowing users to explore a variety of coastal conservation strategies such as land acquisition, restoration, enhancing productivity, prioritizing buy-outs, and others 
  • Downloadable datasets including results for additional sea level rise scenarios 

Gulf of Mexico Findings:  With no action, the region could experience an estimated 98% loss of existing tidal habitats to severe inundation. However, there are many sites where tidal habitats could increase and expand through landward migration, reversing this trend. With conservation and management of resilient sites in the Gulf of Mexico, tidal habitat could increase by 200%, providing critical habitat for birds and wildlife, and buffering communities from the effects of storms. Conservation of these resilient sites is critical if we are to sustain nature’s diversity and benefits into the future. 

Partners: This two-year project was guided by a steering committee of 35 coastal experts from: The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Audubon Society, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Alabama U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Mobile District), Florida Audubon, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida International University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi/Alabama Sea Grant, Tampa Bay National Estuary, and CH2M & Jacobs.

Funding: This research was funded by grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and NOAA’s Coastal and Ocean Climate Applications (COCA) program.