Improving the Conservation of Nearshore Habitat


The Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (the Foundation) have joined forces to help natural resource managers improve the application of science-based tools used to inform conservation and management of nearshore ecosystems. Ultimately, this effort will bring transparency and consistency to the way managers assign ecological value to nearshore habitats, helping to protect and restore submerged aquatic vegetation such as kelp and seagrasses. 

Partners will compile, review, refine, and standardize tools to assess ecological value of nearshore habitat. This will help ensure that protected and managed species, from salmon to groundfish to shellfish, have the healthy habitat they need to thrive, even in the face of climate change. 

The partnership involves four main activities:

Reviewing the scientific literature on nearshore marine habitat evaluation methods

Surveying natural resource managers and partners for evaluation frameworks or tools currently used, and tools they’d like to have

Engaging partners through listening sessions and workshops, then refining tools to meet specific needs

Providing guidance to managers and decision makers on the use of habitat valuation tools

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Why are we compiling, reviewing, refining, and standardizing tools used to assess the ecological value of marine nearshore and submerged aquatic vegetation habitat?

Natural resource agencies have a mandate to review land-use activities in coastal and nearshore environments. The agencies may require measures to avoid and minimize adverse impacts to these habitats. Or they may recommend or require compensatory mitigation (or offsets) and restoration when negative impacts or injuries are unavoidable.

But before compensatory mitigation can happen, we need a way to quantify the habitats’ value to protected and managed species. Unfortunately, we are limited by a lack of data, untested or unrecognized assumptions, and a need for peer-reviewed decision frameworks.

Therefore, we set out to examine our current suite of tools and approaches for valuing habitat to improve their ecological effectiveness and the efficiency of collaborative, science-based decision-making.

We need your experience and expertise to maximize the success and impact of our project. Are you interested in learning more and getting involved? Here are a few ways to engage:

First, attend one of our upcoming webinars to learn more about this project. We are planning webinars for May 22nd and May 25th (1-3pm PDT), 2023. Provide your contact information here, and we will contact you with the webinar details.

Second, do you use tools for marine nearshore habitats and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) habitat assessments? Do you collect or process information used in a marine nearshore habitat assessment tool? Can you suggest colleagues on the West Coast whom we should ask about their tools in the next stage of our project? If yes to any of these, please follow the link above to provide your contact information. We will send you a survey link when we launch the survey.

Also follow the link above if you want to receive periodic updates and announcements from the West Coast SAV project.

Some of us are already using tools to assess the ecological value of marine nearshore and SAV habitat, e.g., Habitat Equivalency Analysis (HEA), Puget Sound Nearshore Habitat Conservation Calculator, and the California Eelgrass Mitigation Policy (CEMP) tool. Do these tools need to be improved?

Existing tools use the best available science to support decision-making by natural resource agencies. We are compiling, reviewing, refining, and standardizing those tools to improve their performance by identifying data gaps and clarifying their scientific assumptions. Identifying data gaps will help us update or develop new tools. Defining and communicating how scientific assumptions affect a tool may improve the consistent application of these tools.

There is currently (as of December 2022) an independent science review underway of the Puget Sound Nearshore Habitat Conservation Calculator facilitated by NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology. This project does not replace that independent science review, and will utilize and be consistent with that review.

I use tool(s) for marine nearshore and SAV habitat assessments, and they are meeting my needs. Will standardization of methods take away my ability to develop new tools?

No. Our aim is to improve projects’ conservation outcomes and regulatory efficiency, both of which affect high-value nearshore and SAV habitats. We are communicating and working with partners to characterize methods for addressing impacts on the marine nearshore, particularly SAV habitats. We will evaluate how we apply assumptions, set priorities for addressing research gaps, and define where and how tools work. Evaluating decision-making tools will help improve transparency and identify room for improvement. Reviewing existing tools will also help us use the best available science in these tools by identifying new applicable scientific research. While this project will not develop new tools, we intend to identify where new tools are needed and provide recommendations accordingly.

How will improved tools help streamline SAV and marine nearshore habitat assessment work?

We may learn how additional information or different tools can improve habitat assessments. These improvements will likely translate into better outcomes for nearshore SAV habitats and increased tool usability. Ultimately, these improvements should lead to increased efficiencies in our daily work. For example, a well-vetted and accepted tool, applied consistently, should reduce future regulatory review time by improving transparency and efficiency.

Will this project help with nearshore marine and SAV habitat assessments in regions outside the West Coast?

Our initial project focus is the West Coast. However, we are casting a wide net to consider all appropriate tools nationally. Some national practitioners already use West Coast tools (e.g., HEA). Evaluating nearshore habitat assessment tools on the West Coast will provide a strong foundation and potential approach for improving conservation outcomes and regulatory efficiencies in other regions.

Upcoming Events

You’re invited to learn about our project!

What: We will discuss the work our partnership has been conducting, share the initial results from the survey of assessment tools for marine nearshore and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) habitats used at NOAA Fisheries, tell you about our ‘nearshore tools’ literature review that we hope will be beneficial to tool users, and provide a preliminary assessment of the habitat evaluation tools currently used at NOAA Fisheries.

When: May 22nd and May 25th (1-3pm PDT)

These virtual webinars will cover the same material, so you only need to attend one. Send us an email ( and we can add you to the meeting invitation where we will post an agenda and details for joining the webinars.

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