Ocean and Coastal Resources

The National Park Service (NPS) manages 88 ocean and Great Lakes parks across 23 states and four territories. The parks conserve over 11,000 miles of coastline and 2.5 million acres of ocean and Great Lakes waters, including coral reefs, kelp forests, tidewater glaciers, estuaries, beaches, wetlands, historic forts, and shipwrecks.

Ocean and coastal parks constitute a system of tremendous biological, cultural, historic, and recreational value to the nation, attracting over 88 million recreation visits each year and generating over $4.8 billion in economic benefits to local communities. Ocean and coastal parks occur from the tropics to the arctic, on continents and islands, in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, as well as the Great Lakes. Ocean and coastal park management requires specialized experience with shoreline, island, marine, and Great Lakes environments. The NPS has adopted national and regional strategies to address ocean and coastal issues in partnership with state and federal agencies, academic institutions, and local organizations.

The Ocean and Coastal Resources Program works to advance ocean and Great Lakes stewardship in the National Park System through technical assistance to parks, scientific support focused on coastal issues, coordinating policy issues nationally, and leveraging support with partners.

A woman in snorkel gear is underwater on the ocean floor with at least ten small baggies filled with purple dye.
Eva DiDonato, Chief of the WRD Oceans and Coastal Resources Branch, conducts a coral-growth study using purple dye at National Park of American Samoa

NPS Photo


Water Quality
Documenting water quality in and around coastal parks is being accomplished by working with the USEPA in the Great Lakes, synthesizing existing water quality data by regions, and producing watershed and water resource condition assessments for ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes parks. The water quality information is used to identify concerns and data gaps;parks then use the information to work with other agencies that share common water quality management issues.

Benthic Habitat Mapping
Documenting and describing underwater habitats with geospatial information is a critical need for determining change through time, quantifying habitat for aquatic species, and managing visitor use. The program has partnered with various agencies and universities to map submerged habitat in several parks and also provides technical guidance about efficiently mapping submerged park habitats.

Sea Level Change
Sea-level monitoring stations are being used to monitor changes and evaluate long-term risks to park resources from constantly changing sea levels. Informational tools are being developed to enable park managers to evaluate potential costs, benefits, and feasibility of sea-level adaptation options, including where to rebuild or relocate infrastructure or adopt mobile facilities.

Beautiful beaches and marine waters of parks attract anglers, boaters, sunbathers, swimmers, divers, wildlife viewers, and other recreational users. The program provides technical assistance and scientific support for park planning and decision-making, for parks to avoid conflicts between uses, and to help visitors prevent impacts to park resources.

National Ocean Policy and Marine Protected Areas
The program also coordinates implementation of Presidential Executive Orders for stewardship of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes, and on marine protected areas (MPAs). The NPS works with the Department of the Interior, NOAA, and other agencies to advance the science of MPA management and reduce the impacts of ocean energy development, commercial fishing, transportation, and other ocean uses on parks.

Status and Future
The ocean and coastal resources of the National Park System have tremendous recreational and biological value. However, park managers must contend with sea level change, coastal development, ocean acidification, non-native species, increasing visitor use, technological advances, and climate change, all of which present new and increasing impacts if not planned for and managed. Some coastal resources remain poorly documented and underwater habitats unmapped. The Ocean and Coastal Resources Program will continue to gain information and provide technical support to parks to address threats to their ecological integrity.

Ocean and coastal parks have a unique opportunity to educate the public about the diversity, conservation, and management of biologic, cultural, historic, and recreational use of oceans and coasts. The Ocean and Coastal Resources Program will continue to advance public and scientific understanding of park resources, working with federal, state, and private partners.

Last updated: May 17, 2017

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