NOAA selects two areas in the North Atlantic for targeted habitat conservation efforts

On May 5, NOAA has announced the selection of two sites in NOAA’s North Atlantic Region as the next Habitat Focus Areas under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint. The Penobscot River watershed in Maine and the Choptank River complex in Maryland and Delaware are areas where the agency will focus its resources to support habitat conservation and restoration.

Below is an excerpt from the agency's press release:

Choptank River Complex, Maryland and Delaware

The Delmarva Peninsula is bounded by the Chesapeake Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east; the Choptank is the largest river on the Delmarva Peninsula and empties into the Chesapeake Bay.  Most of the surrounding land is currently used for agriculture. However, growing populations and land development threaten the traditional agricultural base as well as working waterfronts and natural shorelines and marshes. These landscape changes will continue to impact fish like menhaden, river herring and shad, prey for commercially and recreationally important species like striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and predatory birds such as osprey and eagles. Once-abundant Eastern oyster populations have been reduced to just 1 percent of historic levels. Oysters help filter water and oyster reefs provide critical habitat for a range of Chesapeake Bay species, including juvenile and adult blue crabs and finfish.

"The Choptank River Complex is a microcosm of the many tidal tributaries in Chesapeake Bay - and of great importance to ensuring sustainable fisheries and coastal economies. Working with partners at NOAA and around the area, we hope to successfully protect and restore the ecological health of this watershed and apply the habitat blueprint model to other coastal ecosystems throughout the region," said Peyton Robertson, director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office.

NOAA conducts mapping and acoustic survey work in the Chesapeake Bay, including the Choptank River watershed, to support native oyster restoration. NOAA also funds on-the-ground restoration work and applied research to quantify how oyster reefs provide ecosystem services. Areas in several subtributaries in the Choptank River were designated as oyster sanctuaries by the state of Maryland. This affords an excellent opportunity for intensive oyster restoration on an unprecedented scale. NOAA has also conducted extensive environmental monitoring programs. Data generated will help managers address future challenges due to storm flooding, sea level rise, barrier Island movement, degraded water quality and wetland loss.

NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint

The Habitat Blueprint is NOAA’s strategy to integrate habitat conservation throughout the agency, focus efforts in priority areas, and leverage internal and external collaborations to achieve measurable benefits within key habitats such as rivers, coral reefs, and wetlands. Under the Habitat Blueprint, NOAA selects certain Habitat Focus Areas to prioritize long-term habitat science and conservation efforts.

The goals in Habitat Focus Areas include:

  • Sustainable and abundant fish populations
  • Recovered threatened and endangered species
  • Protected coastal and marine areas and habitats at risk
  • Resilient coastal communities  
  • Increased coastal/marine tourism, access, and recreation

NOAA’s first Habitat Focus Area was California’s Russian River watershed. Two sites in the Great Lakes and two other sites in the Pacific Islands were subsequently selected as Habitat Focus Areas. NOAA’s work is generating results. For instance, in the Russian River watershed, tributaries were reopened for coho salmon to reach breeding grounds, underwater antennas were installed to track the number of salmon returning from the ocean to spawn, and habitat was improved to recover fish populations.

Next steps for the Penobscot River watershed and the Choptank complex include developing implementation plans for each area. NOAA will also begin the selection process for the next Habitat Focus Areas in other U.S. regions.

Click here for information on NOAA's Habitat Blueprint and the selected sites.