Humpback mother and calf.
MD Migrations humpback whales Humpback mother and calf. © Ethan Daniels

Stories in Virginia

Mid-Atlantic Seascape

Charting a course for sustainable fisheries and a healthy ocean.

The Mid-Atlantic Seascape is a highly productive, diverse marine ecosystem and an industrialized, urban hub for commerce.

From Long Island to Cape Hatteras, nearly 50 million people call its shores home, and its primary ocean-dependent industries—shipping, sport and commercial fishing, tourism, recreation, and offshore wind energy—generate an estimated $48 billion per year, according to NOAA.

The health of our ocean, however, is by no means secure and is likely to decline without accelerated monitoring, stewardship and action. We are still overspending our fisheries capital, unintentionally catching the wrong species and damaging essential fish-producing habitats.

Many threats to our ocean’s health, including pollution, habitat loss and overfishing, are exacerbated by climate change. For decades, we have failed to manage the ocean as one interconnected system with multiple uses and benefits such as recreation, fishing, energy, transportation and national security.


As people place increasing and often-competing demands on our ocean, The Nature Conservancy is employing its signature strengths in science and collaboration to change how society views and uses our ocean.

Rather than treating it as inexhaustible, the Conservancy works with partners to advance policies and practices that balance the ocean’s many uses while restoring and sustaining the integrity of its natural systems—using the ocean wisely without crowding nature out.

Through partnerships with government agencies, industry, and other NGOs, our successes to date prove that change is possible:

  • Created the Ocean Data Portal, an interactive site with hundreds of maps with rich information on marine wildlife, habitats and human activities. Ocean planners are using this tool to make smarter decisions and help solve challenges such as adjusting shipping lanes to reduce collisions with whales, or placing potential wind turbines to keep seabirds and marine mammals out of harm’s way. 
  • Completed the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan, which increases coordination and information sharing among state and federal agencies when making all ocean management decisions. 
  • Protected 40,000 square miles of deep-sea coral habitat in partnership with the fishing industry, coral scientists, other conservation groups and fishery managers. Major fishery regulation changes typically bring intense conflict and litigation—working together, we developed trust and reached consensus on fishery closure boundaries. 
  • Protected over 50 species of forage fish from new or expanding fisheries until the effects of their removal on the ecosystem is determined and safe harvest levels are set. Prior to this regulation, new fisheries could be initiated to harvest species at the base of the food web with little oversight. In addition to the Conservancy, this historic protection is a victory for all involved, including conservation minded fishermen, thoughtful managers, agency scientists, and persistent partners that worked on this for several years. 
  • Defended and advanced menhaden fishery reform to ensure that menhaden are managed using ecosystem-based catch limits, allowing profitable harvest while leaving enough prey in the water to meet the needs of humpback whales, striped bass and other predators. Thanks to years of effort by the Conservancy and a community of menhaden advocates, the population is rebuilding and recovery has begun, but much work remains to establish permanent science-based regulations. 

In Virginia, we're expanding the Conservancy’s state-of-the-art Coastal Resilience planning tool to the Eastern Shore and restoring oyster reefs, bay scallops, and seagrass to improve habitat and demonstrate nature-based solutions for risk reduction. 


Though best known for our protection of tens of millions of acres of terrestrial habitat, the Conservancy has evolved to become the world’s largest ocean conservation organization. We are applying our scientific, solutions-oriented approach to identify holistic solutions that maximize benefits for nature and people while minimizing costs.

The Conservancy brings strengths that are indispensable to creating a sustainable future for oceans:

  • A strong network of ocean experts and fisheries scientists at state, regional, national and global scales and a far-reaching network of government relations staff that equip us to institutionalize policy solutions at each scale. 
  • A track record of engaging with industry, including fishermen, who bring knowledge and experience from generations of working on the water to provide food for the nation. Their involvement makes our work more efficient and cost-effective and builds the legitimacy and trust needed for durable policy solutions. 
  • A commitment to managing the ocean more holistically through regional ocean planning and ecosystem-based approaches that bring ocean users together around shared, trusted data. 
  • The reach and credibility to leverage new public and private resources to address ambitious conservation goals. 


Competition is intensifying for all the ocean’s limited resources even as a warming climate is altering the ocean’s dynamics in ways we are only beginning to understand. 

By restoring coastal habitats and making conservation of marine life a guiding principal, we can steer activities toward places and methods that will protect and sustain ocean life and coastal communities for a bountiful future.

The Nature Conservancy will:

  • Revolutionize how we manage our ocean by creating the first detailed maps of all known ocean habitat and human activities in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. 
  • Accelerate progress towards sustainable fisheries by expanding innovative collaborations with fishermen and scientists that will address the most urgent fisheries conservation challenges and help maintain thriving coastal communities. 
  • Build a case for nature-based solutions to rising seas and extreme storms. The Conservancy is leading a partnership to reveal where “natural infrastructure” is most effective in reducing risks from coastal hazards, thus offering communities a way to protect their shorelines and improve the health of coastal waters. 

We can transform ocean management through science, expertise, and the practical tools that we bring to our partnerships. Most importantly, we’re a part of coastal communities and deeply invested in preserving the Mid-Atlantic Seascape for the benefit and enjoyment of generations to come.


Kate Wilke
Director, Mid-Atlantic Marine Program