|Why Restore Estuaries?|
Our nation's estuaries are in grave danger. The vital habitats they provide for an extraordinary diversity of food and wildlife are shrinking fast -- jeopardizing jobs in the fishing and tourism industries, and witness the recent Pfiesteria outbreak in the Chesapeake Bay, even endangering human health.
A way of life that has been at the heart of our coastal communities for generations is also endangered. The richness estuaries bring to our lives -- whether to a commercial fisherman setting out on the water just as the sun rises, to a mother wanting to show her child the wonders of a flock of nesting pelicans, or to adults seeking solitude in a place of exquisite beauty -- could one day be gone.
What is estuary habitat and why is it important?
The essence of our estuaries is found in their habitats: salt marshes, eel grass beds, fish runs, mudflats, and mangroves. These estuary habitats are the places where plants and wildlife live and create the web of life which makes estuaries extraordinary. In estuaries, soil, nutrients, and water combine in a special way to nurture marsh grasses, sea grasses, and other types of vegetation. At first glimpse, these estuary habitats might appear to be very simple and insignificant, but they provide creatures with shelter and food. By nurturing this bounty of life, habitats make estuaries the ecological, cultural, and economic powerhouses that we treasure.
Unfortunately, much of our estuary habitat has been damaged and destroyed over the past 100 years with little regard for its many benefits. When estuary habitats are paved over, polluted by runoff, or lost to coastal land subsidence, it cripples an estuary's ability to support life. When a salt marsh is filled, it can no longer filter sediments and pollution from run off. When pollution destroys eel grass beds, young fish and shellfish will no longer be able to hide and feed in its shelter. In these little ways, habitat loss has accumulated to threaten the health of our nation's estuaries.
In Narragansett Bay, nursery habitat for fish has dwindled due to watershed over-development, less pollution filtration and diminished fresh water flows. Other estuaries have been hit even harder: 95% of the San Francisco Bay's original wetlands have been destroyed, 85% of Galveston Bay's sea grass meadows are gone, and the Chesapeake Bay oyster harvests fell from 25 million to 1 million pounds in just 30 years.
But this story need not have a bad ending- because estuary habitat can be restored to its former glory. A variety of efforts -- ranging from parents and children going out on a Saturday morning and replanting natural vegetation to reconstruction of physical and hydrologic conditions through heavy engineering -- have successfully brought estuaries back to life. However, we must act now, before the bounty of our estuaries are lost.
Restoring our nation's estuary habitat will: