[music] When you mix the fresh water of the river,
with the salt water of the sea, something wonderful happens.
As if by magic, a life supporting habitat is created for hundreds of species of fish,
birds, and mammals. It’s called an estuary. This protected body
of water, often partially enclosed by reefs, barrier islands, or fingers of land, is distinct
from all other places on earth. In fact it’s irreplaceable.
For you see estuaries are the most productive ecosystems on earth, containing more life
per square inch than the richest farmland or the deepest forest. There are over 100
estuaries in the United States, which are home to tens of thousands of fish, birds,
mammals, unique plant communities, and over one hundred and ten million people. 70 percent
of the entire United States population visits an estuary every year.
People in wildlife love estuaries for their many beautiful and diverse habitats, including
sandy beaches, fresh and salt water marshes, rocky shores, shellfish beds, mangrove forests,
river deltas, sea grass meadows, and wooded swamps.
These special places are the most popular on earth, yet not many of their inhabitants
or visitors even know what they are called. Many of us in fact boat, swim, surf, and fish
in an estuary without even knowing it’s an estuary.
Estuaries lead the world in life support, critically serving as places to live, eat,
and reproduce for tens of thousands of birds, fish, and mammals. They are ideal spots for
migratory birds to drop in and enjoy some R&R and act as 5-star hotels for fish and
mammals. Estuaries are known as the nurseries of the sea, as their sheltered waters are
perfect for spawning. Thousands of marine animals depend on estuaries at some point
in their life. They are truly the real Magic Kingdom.
Estuaries also house unique plant communities. Salt marsh grasses and other estuarine plants
help to prevent pollution, erosion, floods, and stabilize our shoreline. Ahhh … all
that and beautiful too. In addition to creating a food web for the
multitudes of fish, birds, and mammals, estuaries also provide habitat for 75 percent of America’s
commercial fish catch and 80 to 90 percent of the recreational fish catch, for our human
Estuaries are where the environment truly is the economy. Commercial and recreational
fishing, boating, and tourism provide for more than 28 million jobs. And fishing alone
generates 111 billion dollars each year. More than 10 billion dollars is spent on recreational
boating products and services. Coastal recreation and tourism generate 12 billion dollars annually.
Estuaries are also important to our quality of life and health for reasons other than
our economy. They often serve as the heart of the community.
A gathering place for community life, traditions, and celebrations. They are invaluable laboratories
for scientists and students. They are the inspiration for artists and nature lovers.
Estuaries are national treasures. Vital places
whose well being affects our health and the vitality of our community and economy.
They are irreplaceable and must be managed
carefully for the mutual benefit of all who enjoy and depend on them.
We are unfortunately loving our estuaries
to death. Half the American population now lives in coastal areas and coastal counties
continue to grow at a rate three times faster than inland counties.
As our love for these special places called estuaries grows, so does their human population
and thus, the demands imposed on these beautiful natural resources.
Without proper management we could kill the very goose that lays the golden egg.
It is the mission of the National Estuary
Program to restore and protect America’s nationally significant estuaries.