Helping Massachusetts Coastal Communities Adapt to Climate Change

Sally Ann Sims
Posted on: 10/13/2021 - Updated on: 4/02/2024

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

Note: This case study has been migrated to the Adaptation Clearinghouse and will be removed from CAKE at the end of 2024. 

The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Division of Ecological Restoration (MDER) addresses the impacts of sea level rise, increased storm surge, and more frequent and severe flooding of coastal rivers through guidance and support of climate adaptation projects in coastal communities. Through its Priority Projects Program, MDER provides technical and financial assistance to local partners such as municipalities, landowners, and agencies to plan and implement projects that incorporate climate adaptation into habitat restoration. Example projects include dam removals, culvert upgrades, and salt marsh restoration, among others.


MDER was established in 2010, merging the Wetlands Restoration Program and Riverways Program within the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game. MDER focuses on advancing climate adaptation through habitat restoration projects. MDER’s overall strategy for coastal habitat restoration is healing the natural systems that are best at providing natural buffering to build ecological and human community resilience. The focus is on projects that undo or lessen stressors on coastal wetlands, such as reducing tidal restrictions or reducing the legacy impacts of agriculture (e.g., coastal cranberry farming) and ditching.


MDER’s Priority Projects Program evaluates, selects, and supports effective adaptation/restoration projects throughout coastal Massachusetts. Eligible applicants include private property owners, municipalities, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions. A local-based team identifies a project scope and applies for funding. Evaluation for funding is based on a number of factors, including climate adaptation outcomes, ecological benefits, the strength of local leadership, and project feasibility. Selected projects are eligible for technical services such as data collection, engineering, design work, and permitting; project management and fundraising assistance; and small grants. MDER also proactively identifies projects that benefit coastal resilience. For example, for a desired salt marsh restoration project, MDER determines how many acres of salt marsh could be restored or protected in a given location and whether the new or restored marsh would likely keep pace with sea level rise.

MDER uses multiple tools and guidance to help communities implement restoration/adaptation projects to build resilience, including NOAA sea level rise projections, Department of Fish and Game’s BioMap2, resources from the Woods Hole Research Center, and findings from the Long-Term Ecological Research Reserve at Plum Island. MDER uses multiple scales of monitoring and evaluation to improve coastal resilience-building outcomes and overall program effectiveness. Project impact metrics include: whether the project was built as designed, whether short- and long-term ecological goals were met (e.g., did fish return to a dam removal site, or was floodplain functioning restored?), and avoided costs. MDER also evaluates project partnerships annually to determine whether project teams need additional guidance to finish projects.

Outcomes and Conclusions

MDER’s Priority Project Program has completed dozens of projects in coastal Massachusetts, with many more in progress. In the near term, MDER is expanding its own capacity to address resilience in coastal communities by:

  • Increasing the services MDER provides to nongovernmental organizations that are working on coastal habitat restoration.
  • Building the internal capacity of partners and nongovernmental organizations to enhance resilience statewide.
  • Serving as a climate adaptation knowledge provider for ecological, technical, and project management expertise for nature-based solutions.
  • Increasing the number of staff in order to serve additional municipalities and increase project funding to build resilience along the coast of Massachusetts.

MDER is also working to address the policy areas that hinder state and municipal action to address climate change adaptation (e.g., eliminate municipal bylaws that prevent towns from taking action on nature-based solutions).


Sims, S.A. (2021). Helping Massachusetts Communities Adapt to Climate Change and Restore Habitat [Case study on a project of the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration]. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated October 2021)

Project Leads

Beth Lambert, Director of Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration

Project Contact

Beth Lambert
Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration
[email protected]

Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration
251 Causeway Street, Suite 400
Boston, MA 02114

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