The National Estuarine Research Reserve System has developed a new tool to help communities understand how rising sea levels and changes in climate patterns will impact coastal habitats and the benefits they provide. The CCVATCH is an evaluation process that brings scientists and decision makers together to create a shared understanding of how changes in climate and management practices will make a habitat more or less vulnerable in the future. Communities can use this knowledge to adapt their management, restoration, and conservation strategies to maintain the health of these habitats as environmental conditions change over time.

Developed for a range of settings, including salt marshes, dunes, swamps, and coastal forests, this process can be adapted easily to meet a land manager’s needs. Local science and knowledge of current conditions frame discussions focused on gauging how severely climate change will impact a specific habitat. Participants can use this process to answer common management questions, such as which habitats should be prioritized for management action and which strategies will have the greatest impact on habitat resiliency.

The reserves’ Habitat Vulnerability Assessment can be applied at multiple geographic scales:

  • Communities can apply the process to assess whether their management strategies will help a habitat remain resilient as conditions change. For example, South Carolina’s North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve is using CCVATCH to compare the impact of climate change on essential fish habitat on undeveloped and more heavily developed marshes.
  • Research reserves in the Carolinas and New England are using this process to understand how tidal flooding, air and water temperature, precipitation patterns, and storm intensity will effect existing challenges, such as invasive species, excess nutrients, and erosion, so they can identify management actions that will increase future resiliency of the habitats.
  • The process also can inform statewide decisions related to conservation and restoration. For example, Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Reserve is working with partners to determine the main sources of vulnerability for salt marshes and to prioritize restoration and resiliency planning efforts across individual marsh areas across the state.