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Drowning the National Heritage

Climate Change and U.S. Coastal Biodiversity

Examines the status of coastal biodiversity and the potential impacts of climate change. Evaluate various policy responses and recommend specific changes to protect the biological wealth of these vital ecosystems.

Key Findings

Executive Summary

Say the words “extinction crisis,” and what most likely comes to mind first is a tropical forest in flames – an apt image when deforestation is the main force behind a species extinction rate unmatched in 65 million years.

But Americans concerned about saving tropical forests’ vast biological wealth must not lose sight of losses much closer to home, including the degradation of U.S. seashores, coral reefs, barrier islands, estuaries, and coastal wetlands.

These coastal habitats are home to teeming communities of plant and animal species, including our own. Some of this diversity is far from secure:

  • 80 species that are at risk of extinction can live only on the strip of coastline that lies within 10 feet of sea level;

  • beach-front development is already fragmenting coastal habitats, and rising population, temperature, and sea levels could compound these losses;

  • the number of Americans living on coastal areas will probably reach 127 million by 2010, a 60-percent increase over a half-century of migration;

  • Global warming could raise sea levels from two to five feet over the next century, in many casts outpacing particular ecosystems’ landward march.

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