Aerial photography of Punta Gorda, on Florida's Gulf of Mexico coast at the north end of Charlotte Harbor near the mouth of the Peace River. Coastal development is situated very close to the river and bay, near where Hurricane Charley made impact in 2005. The Nature Conservancy is working closely with the city of Punta Gorda and regional partners, developing projects to improve coastal resiliance, including oyster reef planting and restoration and protection of mangrove habit.

Working Group:
Coastal Restoration

Estuarine and marine habitats – like oyster reefs, seagrass beds, salt marshes, mangroves, and coral reefs – are among the most valuable on Earth because they provide diverse and disproportionately high levels of ecosystem services, such as habitat for nursery and foraging fish, sequestering carbon, removing excess nitrogen, and stabilizing shorelines and reducing erosion. Yet despite their importance, they have been highly degraded and reduced to a small fraction of their historic extent.

Photo: Carlton Ward | More Info
Photo: Mark Godfrey

Working Group Summary

Informing Coastal Restoration Efforts

In the United States and elsewhere, billions of dollars are being invested in coastal habitat restoration. New policies emphasize planning processes that work across sectors and jurisdictions to fund projects that provide the greatest returns for people and nature. As a result, state, county and local government agencies, non-governmental organizations need science-based guidance about where to invest in restoration and how to set targets to meet these dual goals. To address these challenges, the Coastal Restoration Working Group is identifying agency needs for restoration decision-making, evaluating past restoration projects, and developing targets and decision-support tools for future efforts.

Learn about the Challenge

Photo: Erika Nortemann

The Challenge

Aligning Coastal Restoration Practices to Benefit Nature and People

Degradation of coastal and estuarine habitats is so severe in many parts of the US and elsewhere globally that restoration is necessary to restore ecosystem integrity and recover the ecosystem goods and services that coastal communities rely upon. Government agencies and non-government organizations and industry are investing billions of dollars in coastal habitat restoration in the United States and globally. However, the cumulative success of these restoration investments in meeting societal and ecological needs is largely unknown. Therefore, decisions on where to invest funds and how to define and measure achievement of restoration goals are major challenges for restoration agencies and groups.

The US invests in restoring estuarine and coastal habitats through a multitude of agencies (e.g., NOAA, USACE, USFWS, state resource agencies), many of which with several different restoration programs. Restoration projects typically fall into two general categories: (1) restoration programs that focus on specific habitats or ecosystems; and (2) restoration in response to an injury and damage assessment (e.g., the National Resource Damage Assessment process).

While these two processes have very different objectives from the outset and differing constraints, the ultimate goal of both is increasingly to maximize the return on investment through providing ecological and societal benefits. Yet, despite an abundance of publicly available data, a comprehensive picture of to what extent these projects are conserving nature and promoting well-being is currently unclear, leaving many key questions unanswered. Is restoration typically occurring in areas where dependence on coastal resources and populations at risk are high, and where previous loss and degradation of these important habitats is more common?


Read about this Inquiry

Sealevel rise, remnants of old pier and mangroves at Grenville Bay, Grenada.

The Inquiry

Measuring Restoration Benefits

The Coastal Restoration Working Group convenes a multi-agency and NGO working group to inform future restoration decisions by examining agency needs for decision-making, assessing past restoration projects, and developing achievable metrics and decision-support tools for future efforts.

The working group is addressing the following objectives:

1) scope what drives restoration decisions now and what scientific information agencies need to better inform future decisions,

2) systematically compile and review existing information on US Federally funded restoration projects to assess alignment with societal and ecological needs,

3) identify opportunities to better align objectives for nature and people, and

4) use the results from previous objectives to co-design approaches and strategies for agencies to meet ecological and social goals by developing a suite of ecosystem service metrics that complement established measures like dollars and acres.

Through the course of the working group, we will identify opportunities to better align restoration objectives for nature and people by comparing what drives restoration planning currently to conservation and societal outcomes from past projects. Through evaluating how each agency and NGO defines and measures these objectives, we will reveal potential strategic opportunities to align interagency and joint agency-NGO efforts using common metrics.

This analysis will also build upon and complement the efforts of the SNAPP Coastal Defenses Team to explore how and where natural defenses could more cost effective and beneficial to implement than hard structures such as seawalls.


Meet the Team

Photo: Marjo Aho | More Info

The Team

The Coastal Restoration Team

Stumpy Point, NC. The rising sea levels of Croatan Sound erode the shoreline at Point Peter Road on the Ablemarle Peninsula. © Erika Nortemann/TNC

Coastal Restoration: Advisory Panel

Holly Bamford, Chief Conservation Officer, National Fish and Wildlife Federation

Jeff Benoit, President and CEO, Restore America’s Estuaries

Teresa Christopher, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Gulf Restoration, Department of Commerce

Margaret Davidson, Senior Leader Coastal Inundation and Resilience, NOAA

Justin Ehrenwerth, Executive Director, Gulf Coast Ecosystem RESTORE Council

Carter Ingram, Senior Manager for Climate Change and Sustainability Services, Ernst & Young

Peter Kareiva, Director, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California-Los Angeles

Michele Laur, Senior Advisor Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Team, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Mary Ruckelshaus, Managing Director, The Natural Capital Project, Stanford University

Buck Sutter, Deputy Director, Gulf Coast Ecosystem RESTORE Council

More Info