broad ecosystems that usually extend many miles
beyond the open waters of a bay or lagoon to encompass surrounding
wetlands, rivers and streams. Anything that happens on land within this
sprawling watershed has a direct impact on the estuary itself. Estuaries are
tidally-influenced ecological systems where rivers, streams and brooks meet
the sea and fresh water mixes with salt water. These areas of transition
between the sea and the land are tidally driven, like the sea, but sheltered
from the full force of ocean wind and waves, more like rivers. Estuaries are
generally enclosed in part by the coastline, marshes and wetlands; while the
seaward border may barrier islands, coral reefs and sand or mud flats.
Every estuary is unique; each
individual ecosystem has different components that complete the estuarine
habitat. One estuary may be enclosed by marshes and barrier islands, while
another estuary's borders are the coastline and reefs. Bodies of water that
may be estuaries are: sloughs, bays, harbors, sounds, inlets and bayous.
Thousands and thousands of
marine birds, mammals, fish and other forms of wildlife depend on estuaries
as nurseries, feeding grounds and shelter. Estuaries also act as filters for
water flowing into them from rivers, streams and brooks resulting in cleaner
and clearer water along coastlines. In addition the porous, resilient salt
marsh soils and grasses typically found in many estuaries absorb flood
waters and dissipate storm surges. Salt marsh dominated estuaries provide
natural buffers between the land and the ocean and not only protect animals
and fish living in them but nearby human communities and property.
The primary threats to
estuaries are linked to the rivers, streams and brooks that flow into them.
Any pollutants that are in these incoming water system end of being
deposited in and passing through the estuarine waters. Because of the vast
amounts of watershed land that surround most estuaries, the problem of
protecting them is a difficult one. Compounding this of course are more
direct threats such as ship
wastes, and pollution from factories, homes and other sources located
directly on the shores of estuaries.
ANEP: Association of National Estuary Programs
of National Estuary Programs (ANEP) is a non-profit organization
established in 1987 dedicated to promoting responsible
stewardship and a common vision for the preservation and
restoration of our nationís bays and estuaries.
U.S. Government Site
focusing on coastal waters, including estuaries
Estuarine Research Federation
The Federation's mission is to advance understanding and wise
stewardship of estuarine and coastal ecosystems worldwide.
NOAA Coastal Services Center
The NOAA Coastal
Service Center us an office within the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration devoted to serving the nation's state
and local coastal resource management programs.
The National Estuarine Research Reserve System
Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of protected
areas established for long-term research, education and
stewardship. This partnership program between NOAA and the
coastal states protects more than one million acres of estuarine
land and water.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Oceans, Coasts & Estuaries