Importance to waterfowl
Expansive estuarine and near-shore habitats along the Atlantic coast historically provided abundant SAV and animal foods (including clams, snails and other invertebrates) used by waterfowl (Peterson and Peterson 1979). Tidal and riverine freshwater and brackish emergent marshes provide sheltered resting areas for wintering ducks and geese (Gordon et al. 1989).
Areas of historical importance to waterfowl in the North Atlantic coast include significant habitats found along the Connecticut River, in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island , along the Merrimack River and Plum Island Sound in Massachusetts , the Great Bay estuary in New Hampshire , and Merrymeeting and Cobscook Bays in Maine.
Waterfowl migrate in substantial numbers down the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers and/or along the Atlantic Coast , stopping to rest and feed in coastal bays and wetlands. For several species, such as brant, greater scaup, black duck, and bufflehead, the mid-winter populations occurring in the southern New England - New York Bight account for a major part of their total Atlantic flyway populations. The New York Bight accounts for about one-quarter of the Atlantic flyway wintering population of buffleheads ( USFWS 1997). Coastal wetlands in Maine are used extensively by black ducks, sea ducks and geese during winter and migration, especially Merrymeeting and Cobscook Bays . In addition, large concentrations of scoters raft off the shoals of Nantucket and Cape Cod in Massachusetts (Bellrose 1980).
During 1986-1990, 72% of all black ducks wintered in the Atlantic Flyway. About one-third of the total Atlantic flyway population of black ducks winters in the New York Bight. Wintering black ducks are found in bays, marshes, and flats along the Hudson River, New York Harbor.
Importance to other wildlife
The wetlands of North Atlantic estuaries, and the riverine wetlands of tributary streams and creeks, provide spawning, nursery, and feeding sites for a multitude of fish and shellfish species. The lower Hudson River Estuary is a major nursery area for striped bass, white perch, and tomcod that spawn elsewhere in the Hudson River system. In addition, the river is a wintering area for the federally listed endangered shortnose sturgeon.
Coastal and inland wetlands provide critical habitats for waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds, as well as other wildlife. Every spring and fall, wetlands and beaches of the estuary host massive migrations of shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors and songbirds. All types of natural habitats, including marshes, fields, successional habitat, and woods, are used by fall migrants, although woodlands adjacent to salt marshes seem to be particularly important. Black Guillemots breed in Maine ’s coastal habitat, while Leach’s storm petrels, gulls, terns, and the southernmost population of breeding alcids nest on off-shore islands.
Threats and special problems
The New England Coast is one of the most populous and heavily industrialized coastal areas in the world. Much of the upland and wetland shoreline of the major Atlantic bays and their watersheds have been developed, impaired, or degraded by industrial, commercial, and residential uses. Wetland losses have resulted from coastal impoundment and filling, dredging projects, and natural sea level rise. Urban development has resulted in substantial wetland loss and has accelerated the rates of erosion along shorelines that have been stripped of vegetation. Remaining coastal wetlands are subject to extreme social and economic pressures. Ecological impacts from urban and suburban development include point and nonpoint source pollution, oil and chemical spills, recreational overcrowding, floatable materials, atmospheric fallout of pollutants, dredging and dredged material deposition, over harvesting of fishery resources, competition from exotic and invasive species, and destruction of essential natural habitats (USFWS 1997).