A coastal estuary in North Carolina.
Estuaries and their surrounding wetlands are bodies of water usually found where rivers meet the sea. Estuaries are home to unique plant and animal communities that have adapted to brackish water — a mixture of fresh water draining from the land and salty seawater.
Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. Many animals rely on estuaries for food, places to breed, and migration stopovers.
Human communities also rely on estuaries for food, recreation, jobs, and coastal protection. Of the 32 largest cities in the world, 22 are located on estuaries!
Estuaries are delicate ecosystems. Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System to protect more than one million acres of estuarine land and water. These estuarine reserves provide essential habitat for wildlife, offer educational opportunities for students, and serve as living laboratories for scientists.