When it’s time for a vacation, many of us flock to beaches to lounge, gather seashells, and play in the waves. Some people look for solitude, trying to escape crowds, while others seek the best surf, bluest water, or whitest sands. Many of our favorite beaches are part of the National Park System.
The diversity of sites in the National Park System is reflected in the variety of titles given to them. The National Park System incorporates 97 coastal areas—including national parks, national lakeshores, national seashores, national monuments, and national recreation areas. The National Park Service (NPS) manages these areas, which encompass more than 7,300 miles (11,746 km) of shoreline, and the diverse resources preserved within them: sea cliffs and beaches, wildlife and plants, lighthouses and forts. National Park Service staffs also manage submerged sites, which encompass 3 million acres (1,214,100 ha) of ocean resources.
These environments are not only economically valuable for fisheries, commerce, navigation, and recreation, but include some of the most ecologically important environments in the nation. Estuaries and wetlands are incredibly productive ecosystems, providing food, refuge, and nursery functions to a large variety of biota including finfish, decapods, shellfish, and birds. In addition, shoreline and coastal features (e.g., dunes, berms, reefs, and barrier islands) protect the inland from storm events and high-energy waves.
To protect and preserve natural areas along coasts, NPS resource mangers need an understanding of how coastal systems function. An integrative, holistic approach to coastal investigations takes into account the complex interactions between coastal processes and materials, as well as human influences within these very important and fragile environments. We will highlight many of these issues in this knowledge center.
Increasing pressures and environmental threats such as coastal population growth, pollution, habitat encroachment, and shoreline engineering have negatively impacted coastal areas. Such impacts provide many challenges to resource managers in the National Park Service. How can these environments support increasing population growth and development, and yet maintain healthy and sustainable ecosystems? The National Park Service is grappling with this question as it strives to preserve and protect many vital coastal environments.