Coastal wetlands rank among the most productive and ecologically valuable natural ecosystems on Earth. Unfortunately, they are also some of the most disturbed. Because they are productive and can serve as transporation arteries, coastal wetlands have long attracted human settlement. More than half of the U.S. population currently lives within 80 km of its coasts, and one estimate places 70% of all humanity in the coastal zone. Human impacts to coastal wetlands include physical alteration of hydrological processes; the introduction of toxic materials, nutrients, heat, and exotic species; and the unsustainable harvest of native species. Between 1950 and 1970, coastal wetland losses in the U.S. averaged 8100 ha/year. In Central and South America, development pressures along the coastal zone rank among the most serious natural resource problems in the region. Here, we (1) briefly desribe coastal wetland avifauna, (2) discuss the threat of global warming on coastal wetlands, (3) use several Western Hemisphere wetlands as site-specific examples of development pressures facing these habitats, and (4) provide synopses of non-governmental and governmental approaches to wetland conservation. Overall, we provide a socio-economic context for conservation of coastal wetlands in the Western Hemisphere. We suggest that efforts aimed at conserving sites of particular importance for their biological diversity should be pursued within a framework of wise use that addresses the broader issues of human population growth and economic development. ©1991 Wilson Ornithological Society. Abstract reproduced by permission.