Restoration - What Does It Mean for Estuaries?

Our nation's estuaries are an irreplaceable natural resource that will require a substantial amount of effort, funding and dedication to restore. The most cost-effective route to saving estuaries is to prevent habitat alteration and destruction in the first place. But because of the tens of millions acres of vital habitat our nation's estuaries have already lost and the habitat that continues to be destroyed, restoration is essential.

For Restore America's Estuaries, "restoration" means returning an area of estuary habitat to a successful, self-sustaining ecosystem with both clean water and healthy habitat that support fish and wildlife and human uses of the estuary, such as swimming, boating and recreational and commercial fishing. Restoration usually doesn't focus on a single species but strives to replicate the original natural system. The goal is to help rebuild a healthy, functioning system that works like it did before it was polluted or destroyed. Restoration also means an actual increase in estuary habitats, as measured both by acreage and by the ability to support fish and wildlife.

Restore America's Estuaries' goal is to restore million acres of estuary habitat by the year 2010. A portion of this total will come from protection efforts that slow or halt habitat loss. Restoration activities in estuaries range from the simple to the complex. They include, singly or in combination: baseline assessments, performance standards, and long-term monitoring and conservation plans; the reconstruction of physical and hydrologic conditions through engineered activities, often involving heavy equipment and the returning of tidal waters; the chemical cleanup of toxic substances; and revegetation of an area through native plantings or natural regrowth.

Restoration in the estuary is most effectively done by a community, incorporating the watershed river system and its effects on the estuary. Perhaps most importantly, projects are community-based, from design through implementation, to promote local stewardship.

Estuaries are often at the heart of local economies and traditions. Although they need much more financial and technical assistance from federal, state, and local government than they are currently receiving, the people who live near estuaries are the ones who will restore them to health.