U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Coastal Barrier Resources System
Ecological Services

Credit: USGS Post-Hurricane Isaac Coastal Oblique Aerial Photographs Collected along the Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana barrier islands; 2012.


CBRS Mapper screen capture.

In the early 1980s, Congress recognized that certain actions and programs of the Federal Government have historically subsidized and encouraged development on coastal barriers, resulting in the loss of natural resources; threats to human life, health, and property; and the expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year.  To remove the federal incentive to develop these areas, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982 and subsequent amendments designated relatively undeveloped coastal barriers along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico coasts as part of the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS), and made these areas ineligible for most new federal expenditures and financial assistance. CBRA encourages the conservation of hurricane prone, biologically rich coastal barriers by restricting federal expenditures that encourage development, such as federal flood insurance. Areas within the CBRS can be developed provided that private developers or other non-federal parties bear the full cost.

Hot Topics

New Report about Impacts of Sediment Management on Coastal Barrier Systems

On June 2, 2021, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a joint report on the impacts of sediment removal from and placement in coastal barrier systems. The report contains a comprehensive summary of the available scientific literature on the impacts of sediment management actions (e.g., dredging and beach nourishment) within coastal barrier systems. Barrier islands play a key role in storm protection for coastal communities and infrastructure and serve as critical habitats for many coastal and marine species. Sediment management actions are typically done for hazard mitigation such as erosion prevention and flood control. The report provides resource managers with valuable information they can use to evaluate sediment management practices and the effects they might have on coastal barrier systems, including: impacts to coastal sediment supply, seafloor habitats, beach habitats, fish and other marine species, and long-term coastal resilience along the U.S. coasts. Additional information is available in a news release and Frequently Asked Questions.

New Interpretation of CBRA Exception for Beach Nourishment Projects

The Department of the Interior (Department) has revised its interpretation of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act as it relates to certain federally-funded dredging and beach-nourishment projects. The revised interpretation, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Service) began applying as of November 4, 2019, allows for sand removal from within the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to renourish beaches located both within and outside of the CBRS, so long as the project is consistent with the purposes of the Act and meets the statutory exception for “nonstructural projects for shoreline stabilization that are designed to mimic, enhance, or restore a natural stabilization system” (16 U.S.C § 3505(a)6)(G)). The purposes of the Act, signed into law by President Reagan in 1982, are: to minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of Federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife, and other natural resources associated with coastal barriers … by restricting future Federal expenditures and financial assistance which have the effect of encouraging development …, and by considering the means and measures by which the long-term conservation of these fish, wildlife, and other natural resources may be achieved. Federal agencies must continue to consult with the Service prior to committing funds for projects affecting the CBRS. Learn more about the consultation process and view the Department’s legal memo (PDF) supporting the revised interpretation.

Studies Examine CBRA’s Effectiveness in Saving Money and Reducing Development

CBRA provides landscape-level conservation benefits for fish, wildlife, and plant resources by reducing the intensity of development. A 2007 U.S. Government Accountability Office report reviewed the extent to which development has occurred in CBRS units and the extent to which federal agencies provided financial assistance within CBRS units. This report found that about 97% of all CBRS units remained undeveloped or experienced minimal development. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Coastal Research analyzed the economic benefits from CBRA and found that CBRA reduced federal coastal disaster expenditures by $9.5 billion between 1989 and 2013, and forecasts that additional savings will range between $11 and $108 billion by 2068 (in 2016 dollars). Furthermore, a study published through PLOS ONE in 2020 evaluated the effectiveness of CBRA in discouraging urban development on coastal barriers, and found that CBRA has been successful in its intention of decreasing development rates and densities of hazard prone coastal areas.

Proposed Changes to Coastal Barrier Resources System Units in South Carolina and Florida

The 60-day public comment period for proposed modifications to the CBRS in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, Florida and Beaufort and Charleston Counties, South Carolina closed on March 5, 2021. The Service is now preparing summaries of and responses to the comments received along with final recommended maps for Congressional consideration. The revised CBRS boundaries (including recommended removals and additions) will only become effective once the revised maps are adopted into law by Congress. Learn more.

CBRA Guidance Following Coastal Storms

After a Presidentially-declared disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies make expenditures and provide financial assistance to help communities recover and rebuild. Most federal funding for disaster relief is prohibited within the CBRS, with some exceptions (including certain emergency actions). Helpful information is available on our website, including: the CBRS mapperGIS dataCBRS in/out documentation, a CBRA consultation fact sheet, and additional information about the CBRA consultations process. For assistance,  please contact the local FWS Ecological Services Field Office.

Last updated: June 2, 2021