3.1 Estuaries Overview

Zach Fox and Julia Zajko thinks you should watch this video to understand estuaries and wetlands a bit more!

Estuary = An estuary is when the end of the sea and the end of the river meet.  = Sean Logue

Noelle Diamond: an estuary is a body of water formed where freshwater from rives and steams flows into the ocean. Check out Ethan Hardesty’s video pick for information on Estuaries: Nice photo by Harris:  SOME NEAT FACTS BY CHRISTIAN STALLBAUM:

Bennett gives us a breakdown of what estuaries are: Estuaries are bodies of water and their surrounding coastal habitats typically found where rivers meet the sea. Estuaries harbor unique plant and animal communities because their waters are brackish—a mixture of fresh water draining from the land and salty seawater. Estuaries are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Many animal species rely on estuaries for food and as places to nest and breed. Humans communities also rely on estuaries for food, recreation, and jobs. Of the 32 largest cities in the world, 22 are located on estuaries (Ross, 1995). Not surprisingly, human activities have led to a decline in the health of estuaries, making them one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), in partnership with coastal states, monitors the health of estuaries, educates the public about these ecosystems, and helps communities manage their coastal resources. Logs are loaded onto a truck for transporting to a milling plant in Superior National Forest in Minnesota Estuaries are both beautiful and ecologically bountiful. Their natural expanses provide habitats for a wide range of animal and plant species. Click on image for more details and a larger image. (Photo: Old Woman Creek NEERS site) iron contamination is apparent in the Idaho Blackbird Creek, Lemhi County, Idaho New York City, with a population of over eight million people, is one example of a major urban area located on an estuary. Click on image for more details and a larger image. (Photo: Stanne/NYSDEC) Estuaries Tutorial is an overview of estuarine habitats, the threats facing them, and efforts to monitor and protect estuaries nationwide. The Roadmap to Resources complements the information in the tutorial by directing you to specific online estuary-related materials from NOAA and other reliable resources. An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water along the coast where freshwater from rivers and streams meets and mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuaries and the lands surrounding them are places of transition from land to sea and freshwater to salt water. Although influenced by the tides, they are protected from the full force of ocean waves, winds, and storms by such land forms as barrier islands or peninsulas. Estuarine environments are among the most productive on earth, creating more organic matter each year than comparably-sized areas of forest, grassland, or agricultural land. The tidal, sheltered waters of estuaries also support unique communities of plants and animals especially adapted for life at the margin of the sea. Many different habitat types are found in and around estuaries, including shallow open waters, freshwater and salt marshes, swamps, sandy beaches, mud and sand flats, rocky shores, oyster reefs, mangrove forests, river deltas, tidal pools, and seagrasses. Top of page Why are Estuaries Important? hand holding a group of softshell clams – photo credit: Casco Bay Estuary Partnership Photo Credit: Casco Bay Estuary Partnership Estuaries provide us with a suite of resources, benefits, and services. Some of these can be measured in dollars and cents, others cannot. Estuaries provide places for recreational activities, scientific study, and aesthetic enjoyment. Estuaries are an irreplaceable natural resource that must be managed carefully for the mutual benefit of all who enjoy and depend on them. Thousands of species of birds, mammals, fish, and other wildlife depend on estuarine habitats as places to live, feed, and reproduce. And many marine organisms, including most commercially-important species of fish, depend on estuaries at some point during their development. Because they are biologically productive, estuaries provide ideal areas for migratory birds to rest and re-fuel during their long journeys. Because many species of fish and wildlife rely on the sheltered waters of estuaries as protected spawning places, estuaries are often called the “nurseries of the sea.” woman holding a large fish out of the water – photo credit: Nanette O’Hara Photo Credit: Nanette O’Hara Estuaries have important commercial value and their resources provide economic benefits for tourism, fisheries, and recreational activities. The protected coastal waters of estuaries also support important public infrastructure, serving as harbors and ports vital for shipping and transportation. Estuaries also perform other valuable services. Water draining from uplands carries sediments, nutrients, and other pollutants to estuaries. As the water flows through wetlands such as swamps and salt marshes, much of the sediments and pollutants are filtered out. This filtration process creates cleaner and clearer water, which benefits both people and marine life. Wetland plants and soils also act as natural buffers between the land and ocean, absorbing flood waters and dissipating storm surges. This protects upland habitat as well as valuable real estate from storm and flood damage. Salt marsh grasses and other estuarine plants also help prevent erosion and stabilize shorelines. Top of page Why Protect Estuaries? semi-dense waterside community – photo credit: Stephan Gersh Photo Credit: Stephan Gersh The economy of many coastal areas is based primarily on the natural beauty and bounty of estuaries. When those natural resources are imperiled, so too are the livelihoods of those who live and work in estuarine watersheds. Over half the U.S. population lives in coastal areas, including along the shores of estuaries. Coastal watershed counties provided 69 million jobs and contributed $7.9 trillion to the Gross Domestic Product in 2007 (National Ocean Economics Program, 2009). dense waterside community – photo credit: Maryland Coastal Bays Program Photo Credit: Maryland Coastal Bays Program Coastal counties are growing three times faster than counties elsewhere in the nation. Unfortunately, this increasing concentration of people upsets the natural balance of estuarine ecosystems, threatens their integrity, and imposes increased pressures on vital natural resources like estuaries. What happens on the land affects the quality of the water and health of the organisms that live in an estuary. For example, if a river or stream flows through an agricultural area, it picks up fertilizer, manure, and pesticides from farming operations that run off the land after a rainstorm. As it passes urbanized and suburbanized areas, it gathers fertilizers or pet waste that wash off lawns, untreated sewage from failing septic tanks, wastewater discharges from industrial facilities, sediment from construction sites, and runoff from impervious surfaces like parking lots.   es·tu·ar·y ˈesCHo͞oˌerē/Submit noun the tidal mouth of a large river, where the tide meets the stream. synonyms: (river) mouth, delta; archaicembouchure, debouchure, debouchment, discharge, disemboguement “we paddled down the estuary, observing herons and ospreys” An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water formed where freshwater from rivers and streams flows into the Sound where it mixes with salty sea water. In estuaries, the fresh river water is blocked from flowing freely into the open ocean by either surrounding mainland, peninsulas, barrier islands, or fringing salt marshes. This mixing of fresh and salt water creates a unique environment that brims with life of all kinds. It is a transition zone between the land and sea. Many different habitat types are found in and around estuaries, including shallow open waters, freshwater and salt marshes, sandy beaches, mud and sand flats, rocky shores, oyster reefs, mangrove forests, river deltas, tidal pools, sea grass and kelp beds, and wooded swamps. The defining feature of an estuary is the mixing of fresh and salt water, not its geographic name. Well known estuaries include Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Boston Harbor, and Tampa Bay. ~Hardesty   Rybak says: An estuary is a border where a ocean meets a river. Or where salt water meets none salt water. A lot of things live in that border like fish going down stream or different water bugs or insects. There are also animals that live on the shore of each side.

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