Coastal Program
Coastal Program
skip navigation


What Is a Coastal Ecosystem?

The Coastal Program is one of the Service’s most effective tools for voluntary, citizen and community-based fish and wildlife habitat restoration and protection on public and privately-owned lands. Coastal Program staff are located in 24 priority coastal areas, including the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, and the Pacific. 

These locally-based staff build in-depth knowledge of the community, its natural resources, environmental challenges, potential partners, and political and economic issues. This knowledge enables the Program to develop long term, diverse, and effective partnerships that deliver landscape-scale conservation.
We will continue to be a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to the public service.

Afognak coastline, Kazakof Bay, 1986. Photo FWS.All these water and land forms interact as integrated ecological units. Shorelands, dunes, offshore islands, barrier islands, headlands, and freshwater wetlands within estuarine drainages are included in the definition since these interrelated features are crucial to coastal fish and wildlife and their habitats. A variety of animals, and plants complete the ecological system. The definition of "coastal ecosystem" also applies to the Great Lakes, where enormous bodies of freshwater play an ecological role similar to oceans.

Coastal wetlands are commonly called lagoons, salt marshes or tidelands. If you live along the coast, these natural systems are likely to be a common sight, although in many areas, coastal wetlands were among the first places to be converted and developed for human activities.

About Us

Our Nation's coasts provide important fish and wildlife habitat, far beyond their limited geographic extent. Coastal ecosystems comprise less than 10 percent of the Nation's land area, but support far greater proportions of our living resources. Specifically, coastal areas support a much higher percentage of the Nation's threatened and endangered species fishery resources, migratory songbirds, and migrating and wintering waterfowl.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. Photo FWS.

Today, these species and their habitats face serious threats in coastal regions from human population growth and the development and disturbance that are often a consequence of growth. Population projections indicate that our coastlines will continue to receive the majority of the Nation's growth and development, promising to compound today's habitat losses.

As habitat is degraded, reduced or eliminated, plants and animals suffer population losses that can lead to the need for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Service's Coastal Program is working to avoid further species declines by enhancing the agency's efforts within the Nation's coastal areas and securing funding for conservation, including habitat restoration efforts.

How the Coastal Program Works

The Coastal Program integrates all Service activities in high priority coastal ecosystems to:

  • Identify the most important natural resource problems and solutions;
  • Influence the planning and decision-making processes of other agencies and organizations with the Service's living resource capabilities;
  • Implement solutions on-the-ground in partnership with others; and
  • Instill a stewardship ethic, and catalyze the public to help solve problems, change behaviors, and promote ecologically sound decisions.

Hawaiian Geese - Nene. Photo FWS.

Since the great majority of the Nation's coastal areas are in private hands, conservation of these ecologically important habitats is vital to protecting coastal natural resources. The key is to find solutions that ensure self-sustaining natural systems despite conflicting demands on our natural resources.

The Coastal Program provides incentives for voluntary protection of threatened, endangered and other species on private and public lands alike. The program's protection and restoration successes to date give hope that, through the cooperative efforts of many public and private partners, adequate coastal habitat for fish and wildlife will exist for future generations.


Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership in California receives 2011 Coastal America Partnership Award

The Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership
The Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership

The Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership was recently recognized as a 2011 Coastal America Partnership Award recipient. This award from President Obama is the Administration's highest level of recognition for conservation partnership efforts, recognizing outstanding collaborative, multi-agency and multi-stakeholder efforts that leverage and combine resources to accomplish coastal restoration, preservation, protection, and education projects. The Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership is comprised of numerous partners brought together to achieve a common goal of improving water quality and protecting and restoring important coastal wetlands of the Monterey Bay region in Central California. The partners include Federal and State agencies, local non-profit organizations, local biologists, organic and conventional farmers, and a local High School. The highly successful collaborative effort has led to the permanent protection, restoration, and enhancement of important coastal wetland and upland habitats associated with the Watsonville Slough Complex, one of two large wetland complexes draining into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Over the last 3 years, the partnership efforts have acquired 490 acres within the slough complex and initiated numerous restoration projects that will improve water quality and habitats for federally–listed species, as well as many resident and migratory bird species along the Pacific Flyway; all while demonstrating sustainable farming practices in the region. The Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership helps meet regional goals of the partners by working to improve water quality, and improve habitat for coastal species while simultaneously maintaining the agricultural heritage and economic viability of the community of the Monterey Bay region.

Coordinated land protection efforts by the Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership has resulted in the Land Trust of Santa Cruz (Land Trust) owning and managing 490 acres of agricultural lands and natural habitats in the middle slough region. The wetlands and uplands associated with the Land Trust properties acquired through the Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership efforts provide a vital habitat linkage between numerous other existing protected lands in the slough complex including those owned by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The partnership efforts will help to maintain connectivity between populations of the federally threatened California red-legged frog and the threatened Santa Cruz tarplant in the slough system. The Land Trust properties will also help to both expand and enhance existing habitats not only for these listed species but also other native species including the recently delisted California brown pelican. Listed species associated with aquatic habitats downstream of the Middle Watsonville Slough region will also indirectly benefit from the water quality improvements and include the endangered tidewater goby and the threatened South-Central coast steelhead. The Land Trust is working in conjunction with the Coastal Conservancy, USFWS Coastal Program, Natural Resources Conservation Service, CDFG, the County of Santa Cruz, the local non-profit Watsonville Wetlands Watch and others to restore wetlands and upland habitat in a number of the tributary sloughs. The Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership extends the benefits of other projects in the upper slough region including those supported by the State Coastal Conservancy, the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz, and the City of Watsonville for Ramsay Park and Manabe Wetlands in the Upper Watsonville Slough. The Middle Watsonville Slough Partnership will also help to prevent further harmful outputs from reaching the downstream estuary where numerous other federally listed species occur, and eventually help to prevent harmful outputs from reaching the coastal/marine habitats of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.




To efficiently achieve voluntary habitat conservation through financial and technical assistance for the benefit of Federal Trust Species.

Program Links

Facebook icon Flicker icon

National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants


Coastal Strategic Plan

Estuary Restoration Act


Regional and State Contact Information

Site Map


coastal program logo

Last updated: September 18, 2014
Fisheries and Habitat Conservation
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Home Page | Department of the Interior  |  | About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  | Accessibility  | Privacy  | Notices  | Disclaimer  | FOIA | DOI Inspector General