Coastal Zone Management

satellite image of lake erie with visible HABs
Illinois—the last eligible state—joined the national coastal management program in 2012. This voluntary federal-state partnership was created by the Coastal Zone Management Act to protect, restore, and responsibly develop our nation’s coastal communities and resources.

Did you know that America's coasts stretch along more than 95,000 miles? That’s a lot of ground (and water) to cover. And each area of the coast is unique…the coast of Florida is a lot different than the coast of Maine or Alaska.

Because we rely on coastal areas as places to live (more than half of us live along the coast), visit, get food from, and transport goods through, we need to manage and protect these areas. That’s a pretty big job.

NOS's Role

When it comes to managing our nation’s coasts, it’s a team effort. NOAA works closely with federal, state, and local partners to address a variety of coastal issues. Within NOS, the Office for Coastal Management (OCM) plays a key role, administering and coordinating a range of federal-state programs and giving technical and financial help and training to states working to manage coastal areas.

OCM also provides training and technical tools and advice for state and local managers looking to protect and make wise use of coastal resources. These and other NOS offices are also involved in activities such as coastal and marine spatial planning and the development and delivery of tools to help coastal communities address challenges such as sea level rise.

The Coastal Zone Management Program

One mechanism for managing our nation’s diverse coastal regions is the National Coastal Zone Management Program. This voluntary federal-state partnership was created by the Coastal Zone Management Act to protect, restore, and responsibly develop our nation’s coastal communities and resources. The Program takes a comprehensive approach to problem solving—balancing the often competing and occasionally conflicting demands of coastal resource use, economic development, and conservation.

All 35 eligible coastal and Great Lakes states, territories, and commonwealths (with the exception of Alaska) participate in the Coastal Zone Management Program.

Tackling Issues

State and territory coastal management programs address a wide range of issues, including:

  • Climate change: As the Earth’s climate warms, sea levels are rising, having a significant impact on coastal populations, economies, and natural resources. Coastal zone management can help coastal communities prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. NOS is creating sea level rise inundation models and supporting the development of climate change adaptation plans, regulations, and policies at the state and local levels.
  • Energy facility siting: Whether it is for oil and gas or renewable sources such as wind or wave power, a lot of energy exploration, production, and transport takes place along the coast. Coastal zone management helps ensure that energy facilities are constructed in places and ways that protect the national interest in energy production and coastal resources, while minimizing conflicts with other coastal uses such as fishing and navigation.
  • Public access: More than 180 million Americans annually visit coastal areas to swim, boat, fish, or just relax; however, sometimes getting to the beach isn’t so easy. Coastal zone management can help provide public access to coastal areas. In addition to creating new access opportunities and enhancing existing sites, the program helps provide public education and outreach to make sure the public knows where they can access the coast.
  • Habitat protection: Our coasts have habitats that are economically and ecologically valuable. Unfortunately, many coastal habitat areas face intensified pressure from human activities. Coastal management encourages habitat protection through land-use planning, habitat restoration, and state and local permitting programs that regulate development impacts to coastal habitats. OCM also administers programs such as the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, which awards funding to states and local groups to acquire coastal land for permanent conservation.
  • Water quality: Nonpoint source pollution, such as runoff from streets or lawns, poses the largest threat to the nation's coastal water quality today. To help combat nonpoint source pollution, OCM administers the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program. Jointly run by NOAA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the program's role includes establishing and encouraging states to use management measures to control polluted runoff.
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