An estuary is a body of land that is surrounded by ocean water on some sides, but also comes in contact with a fresh water lake, river, or stream. Estuaries are naturally beautiful and popular places for tourists to visit. What makes estuaries such a unique experience is the distinct and irreplaceable ecosystem that is created in a place where fresh water and sea water mix.
In the United States alone, there are over 100 estuaries, and 70 percent of the population visits an estuary every year. They are popular not only for visiting, but also for living on. People who live further inland and far from a sea or lake enjoy visiting estuaries for the uncommon experience of the wildlife and nature found there.
Wildlife Commonly Found in Estuaries
The most commonly seen wildlife in an estuary setting are birds. An estuary is a life support system for migratory birds, allowing them to rest with ample shelter and protection from predators. An estuary is also an optimal place for birds to find fish. The unique mix of fresh water and salt water, as well as the shelter from larger fish predators also provides an ideal environment for fish to spawn. For that reason, many birds like to build their nests in an estuary. The fishing is not only great for the bird population, but the productive ecosystem of estuaries also allows for a healthy supply of fish for the population of the United States.
The environment on an estuary is also the basis of part of the economy. Estuary economies relating to fishing and tourism provide 28 million jobs in the United States alone. Fishing alone generates more than 100 billion dollars each year, and more than ten billion dollars is generated by recreation and boating annually.
Environmental Damage Facing Estuaries
Estuaries are among some of the country’s finest national natural treasures. However, the beauty and the gifts offered by an estuary need to be protected. The popularity of these visits draw a lot of attention, which can lead to damage of the estuary,as well as other environmental challenges. Population overload, pollution, deforestation, construction, over-farming, and over-fishing are just some of the types of damage that is sustained in estuaries in the United States and around the world.
These factors, along with the natural environmental damage that can take place, are dangerous for the wildlife populations that rely on the unique estuary ecosystem. Even one small change can have far-reaching effects on plant and animal life throughout the food chain. Ultimately, even the human population will experience the side effects of the changes that are inflicted upon these ecosystems. Many organizations throughout the country are working to correct, prevent, and reverse some of the damage caused by the industry that relies on estuaries.
Over time, two-thirds of the ecosystems in estuaries in the United States have been eliminated, contaminated, or diseased. It is hoped that these estuaries can be rehabilitated. One of the ways everyone can contribute to the preservation of estuaries is to conserve water. No matter how far someone lives from an estuary, their water supply ultimately drains down to an estuary setting. The more fresh water that drains to an estuary, the better. Being aware of waste, the amount of water used on a regular basis, and using fewer chemicals also help decrease the pollution to land and streams. This, in turn, reduces the amount of damage that is carried through the water supply to an estuary.
Another challenge facing estuaries is the erosion of land. In past decades, non-native plant species were imported as a way to prevent land erosion. However, those plants invaded the space, taking over the indigenous plant population and corrupting the already sensitive ecosystem. Habitats of wildlife, reptiles, fish, and fowl were destroyed as a result of the plant invasion. Building development, increased construction, and human population needs also compromises the habitat for the wildlife. Efforts are being made to uproot foreign plant life and replace indigenous plant life. Animal life and birds are being protected and preserved to attempt to regenerate what has been lost.