Habitat risk assessment for regional ocean planning in the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic
Coastal habitats provide important benefits to people, including habitat for species targeted by fisheries and opportunities for tourism and recreation. Yet, such human activities also can imperil these habitats and undermine the ecosystem services they provide to people. Cumulative risk assessment provides an analytical framework for synthesizing the influence of multiple stressors across habitats and decision-support for balancing human uses and ecosystem health. To explore cumulative risk to habitats in the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Ocean Planning regions, we apply the open-source InVEST Habitat Risk Assessment model to 13 habitats and 31 stressors in an exposure-consequence framework. In doing so, we advance the science priorities of EBM and both regional planning bodies by synthesizing the wealth of available data to improve our understanding of human uses and how they affect marine resources. We find that risk to ecosystems is greatest first, along the coast, where a large number of stressors occur in close proximity and secondly, along the continental shelf, where fewer, higher consequence activities occur. Habitats at greatest risk include soft and hard-bottom nearshore areas, tidal flats, soft-bottom shelf habitat, and rocky intertidal zones—with the degree of risk varying spatially. Across all habitats, our results indicate that rising sea surface temperatures, commercial fishing, and shipping consistently and disproportionally contribute to risk. Further, our findings suggest that management in the nearshore will require simultaneously addressing the temporal and spatial overlap as well as intensity of multiple human activities and that management in the offshore requires more targeted efforts to reduce exposure from specific threats. We offer a transparent, generalizable approach to evaluating cumulative risk to multiple habitats and illustrate the spatially heterogeneous nature of impacts along the eastern Atlantic coast and the importance of spatial scale in estimating such impacts. These results offer a valuable decision-support tool by helping to constrain the decision space, focus attention on habitats and locations at the greatest risk, and highlight effect management strategies.