The Vulnerabilities of Northeastern Fish and Wildlife Habitats to Sea Level Rise

Hector Galbraith
Posted on: 7/18/2022 - Updated on: 5/16/2023

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Sea level rise poses a major new threat to the conservation of important coastal ecological resources in the Northeast and elsewhere. As yet, our ability to project habitat and species vulnerabilities to this threat is constrained by methodological limitations and a lack of research. Nevertheless, if we are to manage and conserve these resources, on which huge investments have been made over the last few decades, it is vital that we begin to understand vulnerabilities and the factors responsible for them.

In this report we review the scientific literature to evaluate our current understanding of the vulnerabilities of fish and wildlife habitats in the northeastern coastal zone to sea level rise (SLR); identify the major sources of uncertainty; and suggest future research that will help us continue to conserve these coastal ecological resources. Specifically, we evaluate the extent to which existing studies, data sets and tools allow us to infer reliable conclusions about the likely vulnerabilities and fates of coastal habitats for fish and wildlife, the uncertainties that surround these conclusions due to the shortcomings of the existing datasets and tools, and how future research and conservation activities might help reduce such uncertainties. By bringing together the current scientific information on climate change and coastal ecological resource vulnerabilities in the Northeast, this review is intended primarily for resource managers who are charged with making practical decisions about land management.


While sea level rise represents a looming threat to a range of coastal resources in the Northeast, the specific risks it poses to different species and habitats are difficult to predict. Determining which resources are most vulnerable, and understanding why, is critical for developing effective management strategies to sustain these resources into the future. By synthesizing current research on the vulnerabilities of fish and wildlife habitats in the coastal zone, identifying the major sources of uncertainty, and suggesting future research that can help support the ongoing conservation of coastal ecological resources, this report offers a valuable reference for individuals, organizations, and communities working to plan for and address sea level rise across the region.


Hector Galbraith. (2014). The vulnerabilities of northeastern fish and wildlife habitats to sea level rise. A report to the Northeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Manomet, Plymouth, MA.. National Wildlife Federation and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

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The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.

The National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization, with more than 6 million members supporters and an affiliate network in 52 states and territories. The National Wildlife Federation’s mission is to “unite all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world.”

For 40 years, Manomet has worked to build a sustainable world based on healthy natural systems that support human and wildlife populations. We are a trusted leader in the non-advocacy use of science for problem-solving, and have a long history of working collaboratively with entities that have the capacity to leverage change.