Habitat Goals for the Bays

Salem Sound

MassBays has developed goals for improved environmental conditions of estuarine habitats including salt marshes, eelgrass meadows, and tidal flats for the 44 estuaries encompassed by Ipswich Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and Cape Cod Bay. We encourage resource managers at the local, state, and federal level to use these goals for their planning work.



To lay the groundwork for our <link>Blueprint for the Bays, MassBays applied the Biological Condition Gradient approach (source). The process included the following steps:

  • <link>Characterizing MassBays’ estuaries. To simplify development of habitat goals while acknowledging local conditions, we grouped the 44 embayments into Stressor-Resource Categories (described by the degree of human impacts and the extent and condition of the habitats present) and Ecotypes (described by physical characteristics and geomorphology that could support healthy habitat).
  • Documenting. A team from U.S. EPA used historic maps as far back as the 1770s and compared with more recent maps to estimate changes in habitat extent for the MassBays study area. In some cases, coastal change precludes returning to the original conditions (the filling of Boston Harbor tidelands to create the modern waterfront is the most dramatic example), but in others this information provided valuable insights, such as the suitability of an area to support restoration of a specific habitat, for our goal setting. 
  • Consulting with scientists on the potential for future restoration. Multiple factors influence whether habitats can re-establish or recover their health. Climate change is making it more difficult for existing habitats to be restored, due to sea level rise, erosion, and higher water and air temperatures. Development hems in salt marshes, hardens shorelines with seawalls, and sends pollution into rivers and ultimately into the estuaries. Add dredging, boating, and poor fishing and boating practices and it is no wonder our coastal habitats are failing to thrive. Habitat experts took all of these into account when considering possibilities for 2050.
  • A Blueprint for the Bays

  • 2023 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan
targets table

MassBays’ habitat goals:

  • Consist of both condition (healthy habitats) and extent (acres or miles).
  • Are set for each embayment ecotype. Individual embayments might be in better condition compared to others that share their ecotype, but meeting or exceeding a goal for habitat extent does not mean there is no work to do in your area! Reducing pollution through better stormwater management, for example, is needed throughout the Bays to improve habitat health.
  • Include eelgrass, salt marsh and tidal flat habitats. Work is underway to set a goal for diadromous fish habitat; future efforts will include goals for beaches, rocky shores, and biodiversity in the sea bottom.
  • Assume no expansion of salt marsh or tidal flat habitat due to sea level rise and coastal development already in place. For these habitats our work will focus on maintaining and improving their health rather than expanding their area.
  • Are related to “ecosystem services” provided by coastal habitats. Those listed were identified as important in local plans and during focus groups with residents.