NOAA Ocean Service Education banner

" "


The Future: Managing, Protecting and Restoring Estuaries

"" next page
Water Lillies

Through research, monitoring, education, and enforcement, the National Estuarine Research Reserve Program and its many partners work to preserve essential estuarine ecosystems for future generations. Click on image for a larger view.

Estuaries are biologically and economically invaluable natural resources. Assaulted by natural and anthropogenic disturbances, estuaries, and the plants and animals that call them home, are in danger of disappearing if actions are not taken to protect them.

During the last century, millions of acres of estuarine habitats have been destroyed; many more are in poor health and in danger of being lost. In 1996, 62% of estuaries had good water quality (USEPA, 1996). By 2000, only 49% of estuaries had good water quality (USEPA, 2000). How we choose to treat our estuaries today will have an enormous impact on their existence in the future.

Recognizing the value and importance of estuaries and the dangers facing them, Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) in 1972. NERRS is dedicated to protecting a system of estuaries that represent the range of coastal estuarine habitats in the United States and its territories. The system protects more than one million acres of estuarine land and water in 17 states and Puerto Rico. NEERS sites serve as laboratories and classrooms where the effects of natural and human activities on estuaries can be monitored and studied by scientists and students. In addition, all estuaries, whether or not they are in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, are protected under every U.S. state’s coastal zone management program. Many states have designated estuaries as areas to preserve or restore for their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, and aesthetic values.


Many species, like these great egrets, nest and breed in estuaries around the world. If estuarine habitats are not protected, these magnificent birds, and many other species, may face extinction as their habitats disappear. Click on image for a larger view.

When we have failed to protect estuaries, another course of action is to restore them. Restoring habitats involves removing pollutants and invasive species from the water and surrounding lands, reestablishing natural ecosystem processes, and reintroducing native plants and animals. The goal is to rebuild the estuary to a healthy, natural ecosystem that works like it did before it was polluted or destroyed.

In November 2000, the Estuary Restoration Act (ERA) was signed into law. It makes restoring our nation’s estuaries a national priority, with a goal of restoring one million acres of estuarine habitat by 2010. NOAA is providing the necessary data, science, tools and long-term monitoring efforts to help reach the ERA’s million-acre goal.


"" next page

" "