Estuaries and Humans

people canoeing in an estuary


Estuaries are vital waterways that play a key role in the economy, the environment, and in the lives of many Americans.

Unfortunately, human activities have led to a decline in the health of these precious resources, making them one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) monitors changes in estuarine waters to understand how human activities and natural events affect coastal habitats.

Economic Benefits

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Estuaries are often economic centers of coastal communities. They provide habitat for more than 75 percent of U.S. commercial fishing and even more of the recreational fish catch. Millions of people visit estuaries every year to boat, swim, watch birds and other wildlife, and to fish. Estuaries are often centers of transportation and international commerce.

Environmental Benefits

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Estuaries provide critical habitats for species that are valued commercially, recreationally, and culturally. Birds, fish, amphibians, insects and other wildlife depend on estuaries to live, feed, nest, and reproduce. They are stopovers for migratory birds and nurseries and spawning grounds for fish and shellfish.

Cultural Traditions

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Unique cultural traditions have evolved around estuaries. Some of these traditional lifestyles are threatened by the health of the estuary. For example, the waterman of the Chesapeake struggle as the oyster population declines and the blue crab populations change.

Monitoring Estuaries

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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.

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