Rocky Habitats Protection

Oregon’s iconic rocky habitats are both biologically and culturally important, making up 41% of the states 362 mile coastline. From famous Haystack Rock on the north coast to the numerous majestic sea stacks and rock arches off Oregon’s beautiful south coast, these rocky habitats support a wealth of marine life from colonial nesting seabirds, kelp beds, and thousands of fish and invertebrate species. These breathtaking rocky features and headlands attract millions of visitors and recreationists each year.

The state of Oregon is currently updating its Rocky Habitat Management Plan providing the opportunity to increase protections of the most vital rocky shore habitats in Oregon. Sign up for our oceans list to learn how you can help advocate for Oregon’s rocky habitats.

Common Murre, photo by Kimon Berlin

Rocky Habitat Importance and Threats

Rocky habitats provide critical nesting habitat to over one million colonial nesting seabirds in Oregon. They are also home to rocky shore avian specialists like the Black Oystercatcher and Harlequin Duck that rely almost entirely on shellfish for food. Oregon’s rocky habitats support productive kelp and seagrass beds, marine mammal haul-out sites, hundreds of fish species including important spawning areas for juvenile fish, and thousands of invertebrate species including sea stars, anemones, shellfish. These epicenters of rich marine biodiversity are often next to areas of high human use and are therefore especially vulnerable to disturbance, pollution, and other impacts.  

Rocky habitat types in Oregon include nearshore rocks and islands, precipitous headlands, rocky beaches, and seaside cliffs – this includes areas exposed during low tide as well as submerged rocky reefs.

Harlequin Ducks, photo by Molly Sultany

Rocky Habitats Strategy

The plan used to manage Oregon’s rocky habitat resources is being updated for the first time in nearly 25 years. In 1994 Oregon published the Territorial Sea Plan which acts as a guiding framework for agencies to manage the coastal environment. Chapter 3 of the plan, Rocky Habitats Management Strategy provides a broad plan to manage tide pools, rocky beaches, and headlands that make up Oregon’s rocky habitats. Little has been done to this management plan since its adoption in 1994, yet the uses and threats to Oregon’s rocky environments have intensified significantly.

Currently, rocky shoreline sites in Oregon are designated in the following management categories:

Designation Definition Number of sites
Habitat Refuge Areas needed to maintain the health of the ecosystem 10
Priority Rock/Reef Site Offshore rocky sites that most likely need management action 7
Research Reserve Areas suitable for scientific study and research 7
Marine Garden Intended to be educational focal points for visitors 8
Not Yet Designated Areas that require further study to designate 9
Marine Shore Areas of general biological, aesthetic, or geologic interest that require further study to designate 28+

The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) is the agency leading the Rocky Shores Strategy update. Click here for more background on this process as well as an interactive map depicting each designated site. Despite these designations there has been little oversight on how fully the strategy has been implemented or if efforts have led to better outcomes.  

What’s Next

Over the next 2-3 years there will be multiple opportunities for public comment on the Rocky Shores Strategy update process. An initial step is the completion of an updated scientific inventory which will compile all the new rocky shore-related science since 1994 to identify biologically rich hotspots, data gaps, as well as documentation of areas with increasing human usage. Portland Audubon is contributing data from our Black Oystercatcher community science monitoring project to this effort.

Ultimately there will be the opportunity to recommend new site designations as well as recommend agency management and outreach practices to most effectively protect rocky shoreline sites. Portland Audubon will work to increase habitat protections through upgraded or new site designations at key sites.

Oregon coast, photo by Ian Sane

How You Can Help