Oregon's 22 "major" estuaries play a vital role in the ecological and economic health of the coast and the entire state. For example, they are ecologically important to many fish and wildlife species, providing migration routes and habitat for reproduction, rearing, resting, and foraging. Healthy estuaries provide important habitats for many species we value such as salmon, herring, flounder, crabs, oysters, clams, wading birds, ducks, geese, shorebirds, and harbor seals.
Headlands divide the Oregon coast into sandy shore compartments, or littoral cells. Within each littoral cell, features such as inlets, jetties, and rocky outcrops define the boundaries of even smaller compartments, or sub-cells. As many as 21 littoral cells have been identified along the Oregon coast ranging from less than 10 km to over 100 km in length. The sandy dune backed shoreline within these cells comprise about 262 of Oregon's 362 mile coastline, the remainder being headlands, bluff-backed or inlets.
More than 1400 rocks and islands are sprinkled along nearshore zone of the Oregon coast, usually in association with cliffs and other resistant rocky features of the shoreline. These rocky remnants are dramatic and picturesque, but the are also valuable habitat that supports a diverse coastal ocean ecosystem. Most of these rocks and islands are in the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and are home to major colonies of seabirds, such as the common murre and marine mammals, including the threatened Steller sea lion.
Oregon ocean areas stretch approximately 360 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California border and extend some 14 to 40 miles into the ocean.
The state's ocean jurisdiction [the Territorial Sea] extends three nautical miles from shore [Mean Low Water], although offshore rocks and islands can extend this area seaward, such as at Orford Reef near Cape Blanco.