Two humpback whales, a cow and her smaller calf, float suspended in a deep blue ocean.
Ocean Giants 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.

A man stand in the wheelhouse of a small boat. His back is to the camera. Large bushel baskets are stacked behind him on the deck. The still water of the Chesapeake Bay stretches out to the horizon.
Crabber and Tour Guide A commercial crabber and oysterman offers watermen’s heritage tours aboard his boat, Risky Business II. © Jason Houston

The health of our ocean 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.

Freshly caught welk on a pier
Fisheries Whelk, also known regionally as conch, are an off-season source of income for some fishermen. But overfishing is a growing concern, as demand for meat of these edible sea snails is in high demand, particularly in China. © Jason Houston

An Ocean that Works for Everyone

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, TNC works with partners in government, industry and other NGOs 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.

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. 
  • Defended and advanced menhaden fishery reform to ensure that menhaden catch limits are safe for the ecosystem, allowing profitable harvest while leaving enough menhaden in the water to serve as food for humpback whales, striped bass and other predators. Thanks to more than a decade of effort by TNC and a community of menhaden advocates, groundbreaking new science and management governs the largest fishery harvest on the Atlantic coast, paving the way for more ecosystem-approaches to fisheries management in the future.
  • 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. 
  • Expanded TNC's state-of-the-art Coastal Resilience planning tool to the Eastern Shore to aid local governments and communities, providing them with the information they need to better plan for the future.
Small silver menhaden fish leap above the water in a white spray of foam as a humpback whale feeds.
A humpback whale feeds on menhaden off of Atlantic Beach, New York. © Artie Raslich

Leading Ocean Conservation

Though best known for our protection of tens of millions of acres of terrestrial habitat, TNC 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.

TNC 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. 

A Bountiful Habitat

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:

  • Describe, map, and protect important, vulnerable habitats along the coast and offshore in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean.
  • Revolutionize fisheries data collection and management 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. TNC 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. 
  • Identify opportunities to avoid and minimize impacts of offshore wind on marine life and habitats. TNC is exploring the idea of optimizing design for habitat value and pioneering methods to document change over time in deep water. A report, Turbine Reefs: Nature-Based Designs for Augmenting Offshore Wind Structures in the United States, commissioned by TNC and released in December 2021, details options and considerations for the design of offshore wind infrastructure to create suitable habitat for native marine species.

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.

WATCH: In this mid-week webinar, our experts discuss topics including the future of off-shore wind and demonstrate a new mapping tool that is uniting researchers across the Eastern seaboard in understanding climate change affects in the Atlantic.

Mapping the Mid-Atlantic (57:24) In this mid-week webinar, Marine Fisheries Scientist Kate Wilke and TNC Virginia's GIS Manager Chris Bruce pull back the curtain on the busy mid-Atlantic.


Kate Wilke
Director, Mid-Atlantic Marine Program


Sustainable Fisheries

Improving fisheries and the habitats that support them.