Our ideas and perceptions about the ocean are influenced by our interactions with it. But that interaction may go no further than dipping our toes in the waves while visiting the beach. The watery universe which lies beyond the breakers is not something we often see – and usually something we don’t understand. Over half of all Americans live in coastal areas, which can include beaches, estuaries, dunes, tide pools, headlands, islands and the ocean waters immediately adjacent. Our attraction to the coast may be due partly to our fondness for the water, partly to the rich natural resources coastal areas provide. Whatever the reason, the coast is the one part of the ocean realm we know, experience and understand best. To begin exploring, click on one of the ecosystems listed below.