Marine Habitat Protection
New York's marine habitats support a diverse array of fish, wildlife, and plant species. These productive areas include tidal wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation like eelgrass, estuaries and open waters, mud and sandflats, and natural and artificial reefs. Habitats like these produce over 75% of the commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish species in the world. They also provide recreational opportunities for boating, hiking and birdwatching, and aesthetic value in the landscape.
Marine habitats like tidal wetlands and barrier beaches also protect New York's shoreline from erosion and flooding. It is the responsibility of the DEC's Division of Marine Resources, Marine Habitat Protection Section to protect and restore these valuable resources for the benefit of all New Yorkers.
To accomplish this mission, we use a variety of regulatory and non-regulatory tools. You can explore these tools by visiting some of our programs.
A typical tidal wetland is the salt marsh which occurs in the near shore areas all around Long Island, the lower Hudson River, and along the entire Atlantic coast of the United States. These areas are dominated by grasses and other marsh plants which are adapted to the rise and fall of the tide and the salty water it brings. The blades of marsh grass provide a hiding place for small fish and other animals as well as becoming part of the food chain when they decay. The statutory definition of a tidal wetland can be found in New York's Environmental Conservation Law, Article 25, (§ 25-0103) entitled "Tidal Wetlands Act." (link leaves DEC's website). To find this law click on the link, click on ENV, find Article 25, then click on the appropriate law.
An estuary is typically a bay, harbor, or sound where fresh water flowing from the land mixes with salt water from the ocean. What makes these areas so special is the abundance of nutrients and sunlight which feeds the marine food web. Usually these areas near shore are also protected from harsh wave action and provide a safe haven for juvenile fish and crabs, migrating ducks, and even the occasional sea turtle. An estuary contains many other habitats within it like tidal wetlands, mudflats, and eelgrass beds.
NYS Seagrass Management
Seagrasses are true rooted plants (not a seaweed which is macroalgae) considered Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) that create highly productive coastal habitats. In NY, the dominant meadow forming annual seagrass in estuarine and marine waters is eelgrass (Zostera marina). Widgeongrass (Ruppia maritima) is a perennial that can also be found in some estuarine to brackish areas. Seagrass habitat is federally recognized as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) because many different commercially and recreationally important fish species utilize seagrass meadows at one or multiple stages of their life. Seagrasses also play instrumental roles in maintaining coastal environmental quality, for example; they deter erosion by stabilizing sediment, provide oxygen and store carbon as they cycle nutrients. Acknowledging the necessity to protect and restore this valuable natural resource, Chapter 404 of the Law of 2006 established a New York State Seagrass Task Force chaired by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Task Force prepared a report making recommendations on restoring, researching, preserving, and properly managing this valuable marine resource; "Final Report of the New York State Seagrass Task Force: Recommendations to the New York State Governor and Legislature." (PDF, 1.8 MB). The Task Force work led to passage of the 'Seagrass Protection Act' in 2012 which prioritizes the designation of Seagrass Management Areas and developing management plans in consultation with local governments and stakeholders.