Unit 10 – Restoring Marine Environments: The Roles of Innovative Regulatory, Planning and Human Dimensions Tools

Restoring Marine Environments




This unit examines nearshore systems’ value and the contemporary mosaic of tools to restore estuary and bay ecosystems, shorelines, fisheries and wildlife, drawing on concepts from the book’s previous units (EBM, MSP, fisheries recovery, ocean impacts, and so forth). Effective solutions require interdisciplinary and collaborative problem-solving skills you will use across your career in a wide range of professional settings

Reasons to understand management aspects of marine restoration are compelling.  Nearshore environments are richest in biodiversity, provide irreplaceable functions and services, and are economically valuable.  As with the other complex ocean issues presented in this book, in marine restoration planning, proactive and effective policy is key and early outreach to and involvement of communities and stakeholders is crucial.

Figure 10.1 Turtle grass bed, Tampa Bay restoration, Smithsonian Ocean Portal

Humans are naturally drawn to water. Pressure from expanding human development invariably increases impacts on coastal ecosystems and the resources on which we depend. Seventy-five percent of Americans will live within 50 miles of the coast by 2075, according to Restore America’s Estuaries.

In the United States, counties directly on the shoreline constitute less than 10 percent of the total land area (not including Alaska), but account for 39 percent of the total population. From 1970 to 2010, the population of these counties increased by almost 40% and are projected to increase by an additional 10 million people or 8% by 2020. Coastal areas are substantially more crowded than the U.S. as a whole, and population density in coastal areas will continue to increase in the future. In fact, the population density of coastal shoreline counties is over six times greater than the corresponding inland counties.

NOAA National Ocean Service

While we want to protect our coasts and enjoy the amenities and support services they provide, these resources are under increasing pressures and global climate change.  Between 1998 and 2009, for example, the US lost wetlands acreage larger than the state of Rhode Island.  These are lands that had helped absorb and retain floodwaters and storm surge, filter drinking water, provide habitat for myriad animals, birds, and insects and nurseries for fish.  According to the Center for American Progress, the US loses more than seven football fields of wetlands every hour (CAP Fact Sheet 2014).

The value of nearshore and estuarine ecological functions and ecosystem services can be difficult to accurately account for.  Recent economic studies are helping bring these values into focus.  The Center for American Progress’ (2014) Report notes:

An analysis of three federally funded projects reveals that investing in well designed coastal restoration can be highly cost effective, returning significantly more than the cost of the restoration project. Averaging the benefit-cost ratios across the three restoration projects studied, each dollar invested by taxpayers returns more than $15 in net economic benefits.

These benefits include buffering storm surges; safeguarding coastal homes and businesses; sequestering carbon and other pollutants; creating nursery habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish species; and restoring open space and wildlife that support recreation, tourism, and the culture of coastal communities. The benefits are not simply environmental; they are economic and social as well. They are particularly salient in lower-income communities, where individuals frequently rely on fisheries for employment and sustenance and lack the resources to construct costly—and frequently less effective—manmade flood barriers or water treatment facilities. (CAP 2014)

Coastal ecosystems also capture “blue carbon” –these systems (salt marshes, mangroves, seagrass beds, for example) sequester very old carbon at a rate that is ten times greater than other highly valuable planetary systems we normally think of as carbon sinks (forests), and they hold onto it for a very long time (Edwards et al. 2013).

The Restoration Center within NOAA published a report in May 2017, Socioeconomic Benefits of Habitat Restoration (see:  ftp://ftp.library.noaa.gov/noaa_documents.lib/NMFS/TM_NMFS_OHC/TM_NMFS_OHC_1.pdf) .  The goals of NOAA’s national restoration projects include fish passage, hydrologic reconnection (for example tidal wetlands), shellfish recovery, coral recovery, erosion prevention and control, stabilized shorelines, and other strategies such as removal of marine debris.  A major purpose also includes stimulating economic growth in coastal communities, represented by 2,280 direct and indirect jobs, and subsequent increases in coastal tourism dollars spent.

Figure 10.2 Completed US Restoration Projects, NOAA, from $167M American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds (Socioeconomic Benefits of Habitat Restoration, US Department of Commerce)

Congress allotted $167 million to NOAA from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA) for the purpose of coastal restoration. The Congressional appropriation allowed 125 competitive projects to be funded. The results included 25,584 acres of restored habitat, 677 stream miles opened to allow fish to reach spawning grounds, and the removal of 433,397 tons of debris. The projects spent $154.1 million that, in turn, generated $260.5 million annually. The result was a value-added of $143.7 million in “new or expanded economic activity nationwide.” (NOAA 2017)

Figure 10.3 Restored habitat distribution, NOAA 2017

In analyzing a subgroup of NOAA restoration case studies, the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that the average benefit-cost ratio of restoring the coastal ecosystem at three sites was 15.36 (CAP Fact Sheet 2014).

Based on its findings of the results of NOAA’s restorations, the CAP made the following recommendations.

  1. Public and private sector entities should increase their investment in coastal restoration projects and fund ongoing monitoring of restored areas.
  2. Congress should enact and fund the National Endowment for the Oceans to provide a steady revenue stream for restoration.
  3. The state and federal agencies distributing BP oil spill related funds should invest in recovery projects that create employment and support long-term ecosystem recovery.
  4. Federal, state, and local coastal planners should give greater weight to natural solutions such as wetland restoration to help protect at-risk developed areas.
  5. The Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of the Interior, and NOAA should work with the Economic Development Administration and the U.S. Department of Labor to develop new pathways into crafts, trades, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, careers related to ecosystem restoration.
  6. NOAA and its partners should seek funding to apply the evaluation techniques used in this report to the other AR coastal restoration projects in order to provide a stronger foundation for future coastal land use decisions.

CAP 2014

While Congressional appropriations for coastal restoration ebb and flow across administrations at the national level, on the ground citizens, students, and scientists can help further the work of restoration in their own regions through becoming involved in shaping the future of their beaches, estuaries, and coasts and the plants and animals and other resources that enrich them.


Edwards PET, Sutton-Grier AE, Coyle GE (2013), Investing in Nature:  Restoring Coastal Habitat Blue Infrastructure and Green Job Creation, 38 Marine Policy 65-71.

From NOAA’s Restoration Center, see report from May 2017, Socioeconomic Benefits of Habitat Restoration


Center for American Progress/OXFAM (2014), The Economic Benefits of Restoring Coastal Ecosystems,



The Resources for Unit 10 contain additional information relevant to marine restoration.

The final unit, Unit 11, will provide thoughts on the future of ocean management.

Unit 10 Study Questions

  1. The idea of an oceans endowment is intriguing and could gain traction. What are some other funding mechanisms that might be practical and popular in the shorter term?
  2. A restoration project is often long-term and can offer a “living laboratory” for STEM as well as law/policy and social science. The data that flow from these projects may be used to help inform projects in other regions.  What kind of more formal role could education play in coastal restoration programs?

Unit Ten Appendix


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Marine Law and Policy for Scientists and Managers Copyright © 2019 by Holly V. Campbell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.