Why we care about estuaries

If you live in the United States, there’s a 43 percent chance you live near an estuary and an equally good chance you didn’t realize it. Estuaries often go by more familiar names like Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Mobile Bay, or South Slough. Places where rivers meet the sea or a Great Lake, estuaries brim with life—more life, in fact, per square inch than the richest Midwest farmland. More than three-quarters of the fish and shellfish caught along our coasts depend on estuaries to survive, as do many other forms of wildlife.

 

This vitality is one of many characteristics that have attracted people to live, work, and play near estuaries for thousands of years. The local bay, sound, or bayou is often at the center of community life and traditions. Estuaries are places for fishing, recreation, tourism, and busy ports that fuel local and regional economies. Estuarine environments protect our health and well-being by improving water quality, reducing flooding and erosion, supporting commercially important fish and wildlife, and providing many other valuable services and products.

Sometimes, however, we love estuaries a little too much. As coastal populations grow, development and other human activities are disrupting more and more of these natural areas, polluting waters, damaging the wetlands, and causing the decline of fish and wildlife. These problems are intensified by the impacts of climate change, which are already being felt in the form of extreme storms, sea level, and changes in temperature and rain patterns that threaten environments, people, and infrastructure. As daunting as these problems can be, Reserves are dedicated to the idea that through science, education, and collaboration we can find ways for people to live in balance with coastal environments and protect these cherished resources for generations to come.