Coastal Issues | Climate Change | Activities

What Is OCRM Doing to Respond to Climate Change?

Through its coastal management efforts, the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) is helping address the potential impacts of climate change along the coast in a number of ways.

Coastal Zone Management Program

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) notes that “global warming may result in a substantial sea level rise with serious adverse effects in the coastal zone” and that “coastal states must anticipate and plan for such an occurrence.” OCRM’s Coastal Zone Management Program, in partnership with state coastal management programs, provides technical assistance and funding to support projects to help state and local governments prepare for and adapt to climate change and sea level rise. Climate change related projects include creating sea level rise inundation models, developing plans for adapting to climate change, and establishing new regulations for dealing with sea level rise (See Case Studies for more in depth examples). 

Report on Sea Level Rise

Reports like this one are one way the Coastal Zone Management Program shares information on climate change responses with the coastal management community.

Other activities the Coastal Zone Management Program has been involved with include:

National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS)

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) was established for long-term monitoring, research, education and stewardship, which makes the 27 reserves well suited for contributing to the scientific understanding of climate change and promoting climate change outreach and adaptation.

The NERRS recently released a white paper, Climate Change: Science, Education and Research for Tomorrow’s Estuaries, which identifies several major climate change impacts to reserve ecosystems and outlines how the System is responding to climate change. For example, researchers at several reserves are monitoring the change in relative sea level rise and studying how estuarine habitats respond to climate change. Through the Coastal Training Program and other outreach efforts, other reserves hold workshops for local decision makers and the general public to help them better understand and respond to climate change and sea level rise. The workshops also show people how to reduce their own carbon emissions and save money in the process. Several reserves are also active in local and regional efforts to develop climate and energy action plans. (See Case Studies).

The NERRS Graduate Research Reserve Fellowship Program supports several social science research projects to assess the ability of coastal communities to address climate change.


Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET)

The Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET) uses the principles of collaborative research to develop, demonstrate, and apply technology that coastal managers nationwide can use to address existing challenges that are intensified by the impacts of climate change, such as rapid land development, water quality and habitat degradation, coastal inundation, and shifting shorelines. CICEET’s recent climate change-related initiatives include:


Coral Conservation Program

The Coral Reef Conservation Program conducts monitoring and research to help understand and predict the impact of climate change on coral ecosystems. The data has helped reef managers predict the onset of coral bleaching, a phenomenon that can occur when coral is exposed to higher than normal water temperatures and can damage or destroy reefs. The research also looks at historical climate change and how scientists might predict other changes in ocean chemistry may cause on reefs.
The Program helped develop A Reef Manager’s Guide to Coral Bleaching, and Status of Caribbean Coral Reefs After Bleaching and Hurricanes in 2005. The Program is currently offering training workshops to reef managers based upon A Reef Manager’s Guide publication. (See Case Studies for details.)

Diver Doing Field Work

A participant in the American Samoa bleaching workshop puts his new skills to use by conducting a resilience survey during the field portion of the workshop. Credit: NOAA Coral Reef Watch

The Coral Reef Conservation Program also gives grants to coral reef researchers and managers to undertake climate change-related projects, such as assessing the vulnerability of reefs to climate change; developing predictive models for bleaching events; studying the causes and effects of bleaching events; and implementing an outreach and education campaign on coral reefs and climate change.
The Coral Conservation Program’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW) is actively involved in researching and monitoring ocean acidification, the increase of the ocean’s acidity caused by the ocean’s absorbing carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels. In October 2008, CRW launched an experimental product, including a tutorial, that models the estimated current state of acidification in the Caribbean.  Scientists are using this data to determine how fast acidification is occurring, study local variability, and hypothesize about the ability of coral to adapt to its effects. Learn more about ocean acidification.  

Ocean Acidification Model of the Caribbean

This experimental ocean acidification model shows changing ocean chemistry in the surface waters of the Caribbean region from 1989 through 2007.  Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reduced the ocean pH, which makes it harder for corals, clams, oysters, and other marine life to secrete and maintain the carbonate minerals they need to build their skeletons or shells. Credit: NOAA Coral Reef Watch

The Administration is working to reauthorize the Coral Reef Conservation Act, which will enhance the Coral Reef Conservation Program’s ability to address the effects of climate change on coral reefs.  The Coral Reef Conservation Program will continue to provide support towards this goal during the 111th Congress.  Read the most recent updates on reauthorization.


National Marine Protected Areas Center

The National Marine Protected Areas Center (MPA Center) is working to build a comprehensive National System of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to conserve the nation’s rich marine natural and cultural heritage. MPAs and networks of MPAs are increasingly recognized as important management tools for mitigating some of the negative impacts of climate change, human activities such as coastal and offshore development and overfishing, and natural events. The National System of MPAs will provides a mechanism for MPA managers to work together toward common conservation goals, as well as to work with partners and stakeholders to identify gaps in conservation where new or enhanced MPAs may be needed. 

The MPA Center works with MPA and marine resource managers and research programs at the federal, state, tribal, and/or local levels to collectively enhance conservation of the nation's natural and cultural marine heritage.

An emerging management issue for the national system of MPAs is better understanding how key habitats and the species will be affected by climate change over time. The MPA Center is focusing on building a national system that fosters resilient ecosystems, sustains ecological functions and services, contributes to viable coastal communities and is composed of representative habitats and ecosystems.

By maintaining diversity and resiliency at varying levels, the national system will help reduce some of the adverse effects of climate change on our nation’s ocean and coastal resources. For example, conserving submerged geologic features such as reefs, hard bottoms, canyons and seamounts that are rich in species diversity will ensure that these habitats remain protected, even if the species that use them may change.

MPAs within the national system also can serve as platforms for monitoring the effects of climate change. They will help ocean and coastal experts and managers better understand and address the impacts of sea level rise, increased intensity and frequency of storms, ocean warming, and acidification.