Estuary at Everglades National Park. Text over image reads: Mixture of both fresh and salt water.  Where rivers connect to the ocean. Also known as a bay, inlet, sound or wetland. Found at parks where the ocean and river meet.

Many coastal habitats are found in and around estuaries, including salt marshes, sandy beaches, mud and sand flats, rocky shores, oyster reefs, mangrove forests, tidal pools and seagrass beds. Estuaries are sheltered bodies of water where rivers meet the sea, nutrient-rich freshwater mixes with saltwater, and sunlight penetrates the shallow depths. All of these conditions combine to create some of the most biologically-rich waters on the planet. Species able to adapt to the changing environment and sometimes harsh conditions thrive in estuaries.

Because they are biologically productive, estuaries attract migratory birds as places to feed and stop over during annual migrations. Estuaries also serve as nursery areas where fish and shellfish can grow and mature. Most important species of marine fish harvested as seafood or caught by recreational anglers rely on estuaries at some point in their life histories.

Over half of the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of a coast, including watersheds that empty into estuaries. Increased runoff of pollutants and sediments from urban and agricultural development impacts on water quality in estuaries. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous can fuel blooms of algae that deplete waters of life-giving oxygen. Dams and flood control structures also can change the amounts and rates of freshwater flows. Regional cooperation among local governments, states and federal agencies such as the National Park Service is helping to address these challenges.

Move to What You Can Do?

Here are 10 tips from the NOAA that you can do to help protect estuaries.

  1. Keep septic systems working properly. Pump your system every three years. Leaking systems seep into estuaries and pollute them.
  2. Think before you pour something down the drain. Many hazardous products flow from household drains through sewage treatment plants and into coastal bodies of water.
  3. Pave less. Hard surfaces speed up water runoff and increase pollution and erosion.
  4. Avoid using toxic pesticides. Try using natural lawn and garden treatments. Plain soap and water does the job and keep harmful chemicals from ending up in nearby waterways.
  5. Use native plants. Garden and landscape with plants native to your area and reduce the need for watering and fertilizing.
  6. Collect rainwater. Reducing runoff is critical to minimize the impact that yards and gardens have on surrounding lakes and streams.
  7. Adhere to “no-wake” zones when on your boat. Waves destroy shorelines and increase erosion.
  8. Fish respectfully. Follow “catch and release” practices and keep more fish alive.
  9. Respect habitat. Treat the homes of vital marine life with care. Healthy habitat and survival go hand in hand. When habitat disappears so do many plant and animals.
  10. Take action and get involved! Volunteer at your nearest park. Organize a stream or beach cleanup.

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    Last updated: May 13, 2016


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