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Assessing How Climate Change Will Affect Coastal Habitats in the Northeast

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Climate change significantly impacts coastal habitats in the northeastern United States through sea level rise, storms, erosion, and changes to water quality. But because impacts to habitats vary in different locations, it is not clear how coastal managers can best protect vulnerable habitats such as marshes, seagrass beds, and dunes. A more complete understanding of risks could help coastal managers prioritize actions to enhance the habitat resilience. To meet this need, the 2013 collaborative project Assessing Habitat Vulnerability in a Time of Change developed the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Tool for Coastal Habitats, or CCVATCH. Created to help managers better understand a habitat's specific vulnerabilities to climate change, this decision support tool incorporates existing information on climate change impacts with knowledge of local conditions to help users develop vulnerability scores for specific areas.

In this project, managers at four National Estuarine Research Reserves in New England used CCVATCH to conduct assessments of their areas. Reserves identified their primary sources of vulnerability, using this information to prioritize coastal habitat management actions in support of habitat resilience.