Habitat Destruction and Degradation

Take Action Against Habitat Destruction and Degradation

  • Join a habitat restoration project and volunteer your time.
  • Explore and appreciate the ocean without interfering with wildlife or removing rocks and coral.
  • Support organizations working to fight habitat destruction and degradation. Many institutes and organizations are fighting to protect ocean habitats and marine wildlife. Find a national organization and consider giving financial support or volunteering for hands-on work or advocacy. If you live near the coast, join up with a local branch or group and get involved in projects close to home.
  • Influence change in your community. Research the ocean policies of public officials before you vote or contact your local representatives to let them know you support marine conservation projects.
  • Take the pledge. Return the favor by taking our pledge to protect the ocean.


What Causes Habitat Destruction and Degradation?

Habitat destruction and degradation are among our most serious environmental crises, causing species extinctions and threatening many remaining wildlife populations around the world. It can take place in any area of the ocean and may have long-lasting or permanent effects. Humans and nature can both cause destruction to the ocean and coastal habitats.

Hurricanes and typhoons, storm surges, tsunamis and the like can cause massive, though usually temporary, disruptions in the life cycles of ocean plants and animals. Human activities, however, are significantly more impactful and persistent. Agriculture, industrial development, and urban sprawl are a few examples of manmade stresses that lead to reduced quantity and quality of habitat that supports marine life.

In addition, manmade structures such as inland dams decrease natural nutrient-rich runoff, cut off fish migration routes, and curb freshwater flow, increasing the salinity of coastal waters. Destructive fishing techniques like bottom trawling, dynamiting, and poisoning destroy habitats near shore as well as in the deep sea. Tourism brings millions of boaters, snorkelers, and scuba divers into direct contact with fragile wetland and coastal ecosystems.

Why is Habitat Destruction and Degradation a Problem?

Habitat destruction and degradation can have a significant impact on marine biodiversity to species’ biodiversity, abundance, distribution, and inter-population dynamics are affected and entire ecosystems may be altered by the loss of habitat. In California, population growth and associated coastal development have caused the loss of over 90 percent of our wetlands (Dahl 1990). Wetlands have been dredged and filled in to accommodate urban, industrial, and agricultural development.

For example, twenty-eight species of salmonids and steelhead trout have been listed as either threatened or endangered on the West Coast. Dams, water diversions, habitat loss, water pollution, and changing ocean conditions all contribute to the decline of California salmonid species. Salmon populations may improve if more water is available in our streams and rivers. You can help by reducing the amount of water that you use.

What is the State of California Doing?

There are numerous entities in California working together to reduce and prevent habitat destruction and degradation. Furthermore, many agencies are implementing projects that are restoring coastal and marine habitats:

Photo Credit: California Coastal Commission

Photo Credit: California Coastal Commission

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) manages a community-based restoration pilot program in Upper Newport Bay in Orange County. Despite wetland’s significant importance, it is estimated that 97 percent of coastal wetlands in Southern California have been lost and the CCC is working to restore wetlands. This program complements the CCC’s work of its regulatory and planning programs by empowering the public to become stewards of our coast and ocean and take environmentally positive action. Participating in hands-on habitat restoration is one of the ways in which the public can be involved in helping to protect the coast.

The State Coastal Conservancy works on numerous projects up and down the coast to protect and improve the quality of coastal wetlands, streams, watersheds, and near-shore ocean waters. Since 1976, the Coastal Conservancy has helped preserve more than 300,000 acres of wetlands, dunes, wildlife habitat, recreational lands, farmland, and scenic open space. In addition, the Coastal Conservancy coordinates the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, a broad-based partnership chaired by the Resources Agency and supported by the State Coastal Conservancy, which has public agencies, non-profits, scientists, and local communities working cooperatively to acquire and restore rivers, streams, and wetlands in coastal Southern California.

In San Francisco Bay, eelgrass and oysters are important foundational species. Eelgrass provides food, shelter, and spawning grounds for a diverse assemblage of native species, including economically-significant fisheries such as Pacific herring.  Native oysters are also an important species in the Bay and help to improve water quality. These valuable resources have, however, suffered degradation in San Francisco Bay due largely to the impacts of development. The San Francisco Eelgrass and Oyster Restoration projects were designed to improve scientific understanding of restoration techniques for valuable shallow subtidal habitats.


What is the Federal Government Doing?

Snowy Plover habitat fenced off at Devereux Slough in Santa Barbara, CA Photo Credit: Callie Bowdish

Snowy Plover habitat fenced off at Devereux Slough in Santa Barbara, CA Photo Credit: Callie Bowdish

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) manages a National Estuarine Program (NEP) that tackles the issue of habitat loss and degradation among other environmental challenges. NEP is a place-based program to protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance. Currently there are 28 estuaries located along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico and each NEP focuses its work within a particular place or boundary (or, “study area”) which includes the estuary and surrounding watershed. There are three estuaries in California that are a part of the NEP program.

The National Fish Habitat Action Plan is an unprecedented attempt to address an unseen crisis for fish nationwide: loss and degradation of their watery homes. The mission of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan is to protect, restore and enhance the nation’s fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people. Under the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, the California Fish Passage Forum was created to restore connectivity of freshwater habitats throughout the historic range of anadromous fish. The Forum was established in response to significant declines in coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead. At least one population of all of these species is federally listed as either Threatened or Endangered within California, and efforts are underway to recover their populations. The Forum coordinates among agency programs and private sector activities to target high priority projects and to improve the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of fish passage.

Thank You Ocean Reports Related to Habitat Destruction and Degredation

Storm Water Runoff (February 1, 2015): http://www.thankyouocean.org/storm-water-runoff/

Wetlands Restoration Helps You! (November 24, 2014): http://www.thankyouocean.org/wetlands-restoration-helps-you/

Channel Islands Bald Eagle Restoration (May 19, 2014): http://www.thankyouocean.org/channel-islands-bald-eagle-restoration/

Bringing a Kelp Forest Back to Life! (December 2, 2013): http://www.thankyouocean.org/bringing-a-kelp-forest-back-to-life/

Yesterday’s Ocean (August 16, 2013): http://www.thankyouocean.org/yesterdays-ocean/

San Clemente Dam Removal (January 7, 2013): http://www.thankyouocean.org/san-clemente-dam-removal/



California Coastal Commission: http://www.coastal.ca.gov/publiced/unbweb/cbrep.html

Ocean Health Index: http://www.oceanhealthindex.org/Components/Habitat_Destruction/

National Geographic: http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-marine-habitat-destruction/