Brief Introduction to NOAA's Estuaries Programs
The coastal and estuarine areas of the United States and their associated resources have become increasingly important to the Nation's economy and to the health and well-being of its citizens. The expansion of population centers in coastal regions reflects our growing dependence on the economic, aesthetic and recreational benefits that these regions provide. As a result of this expansion, however, many coastal areas have suffered declines in aquatic species, losses of critical habitat, contamination of sediments, outbreaks of fish diseases and risks to human health
Given the importance of these coastal areas and their resources, there is a strong national interest in ensuring their ecological health for the benefit of future generations. In other words, we need to manage our coastal areas and resources for sustainable use. To do this, managers need reliable information on the condition of coastal resources; they need to provide answers to questions such as:
- Are environmental conditions improving or deteriorating? If so, where and during what time of year?
- Are the changes related to human activities? Do some activities (e.g., agriculture, industry, sewage treatment) have a greater impact than others?
- What actions can best correct existing problems or prevent future problems?
Providing answers to such questions requires scientific programs to monitor specific coastal properties that can indicate the health of our coastal ecosystems and document the causes of ecosystem change.
Over the past few decades, a range of monitoring strategies and techniques have been used to address many of the Nation's coastal and estuarine environmental issues. Traditionally, monitoring has involved efforts to inventory the characteristics of coastal and estuarine areas, their resources and the human pressures that threaten them. This type of monitoring quantifies the existing acres of seagrasses and agricultural fields, for example. More recently, the role of monitoring has been expanded to include an examination of the complex cause-and-effect relationships that have developed through human-induced pressures on coastal areas, such as the effects of metals, pesticides and nutrients on fish abundance, reproductive success and ability to feed.
Although monitoring provides critical information about the state of the environment, financial and personnel resources are and will continue to be constrained. New monitoring approaches will be necessary to ensure a return of highly valuable information for this investment.
Introductory and additional information on the NOAA web site: state-of-coast.noaa.gov/bulletins/html/mcwq_12/mcwq.html