Editorial: Honoring National Estuaries Week

By: Rachel Rouillard, PREP & Cory Riley, GBNERR
Appeared in Foster’s Daily Democrat 10/4/2013
This week, people all around the country celebrated National Estuaries Week. Great Bay and Hampton-Seabrook are New Hampshire’s estuaries – economically and ecologically valuable places where fresh water and salt water come together.
Since you live in the seacoast region, you may have celebrated National Estuaries Week without even knowing it.

Canoe

If you ate an oyster or had fish for dinner or went boating on any of the seven major rivers that connect our towns to the ocean, you celebrated it. If you went hunting or swimming or took your dog to the water … if you drove over the General Sullivan bridge and enjoyed the view or enjoyed watching the scene along the Portsmouth waterfront, then you were celebrating our estuaries, too.

Estuaries play a big role in the beauty and health of our seacoast surroundings. We value our beautiful views, clean water to swim and boat in, and opportunities to fish and hunt. Because of the mix of salt and fresh water, and unique plants such as eelgrass and salt-marsh

grass that thrive there, estuaries are essential to healthy fish and wildlife, and clean water. Salt-marsh ecosystems and oysters naturally filter and clean water coming from the land and rivers, and the marshes act as a sponge to protect adjacent property from flooding.

We can’t take the health of our estuaries for granted. Every three years, we assess the health of the estuary using over one million data points. That data is organized into 22 indicators that tell us about our estuarine system. Much like a visit to your doctor, where indicators of wellness might be weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol, indicators of estuarine health include things like the extent of eelgrass, oyster population, and nutrient levels. Over the past twelve years, many of our estuarine indicators have demonstrated cause for concern. In the 2013 State of Our Estuaries Report, fifteen of 22 indicators fell into the “cautionary” or “negative” status.
As we learn more about our estuaries and how they contribute to our quality of life, we also understand more about how our choices impact the land and water around us. We need to be mindful that when we make decisions as individuals or as a community, there is often a consequence for the natural world. National Estuaries Week is an ideal time for all of us to commit to collective action to protect and improve our estuaries. Many of our towns and cities are answering thecall by installing rain gardens, reducing unnecessary pavement, purchasing conservation land along our rivers and bays, providing bags for pet waste in parks, and improving municipal waste systems.As residents, there are many things you can do to support healthy estuaries: maintain your septic system, avoid pouring waste or chemicals down storm drains, properly dispose of paints, use less lawn fertilizer, plant a drought-resistant native species in your yard, pick up your dog waste, support public and private land conservation, and protect natural landscapes along our waterways. Any action you take, no matter how simple, will make a difference.

The most important thing you can do today is to get outside and reacquaint yourself with New Hampshire’s wonderful estuaries. Go fishing, enjoy a boat ride, or take your kids to the Great Bay Discovery

Center. We need all our seacoast residents to become motivated advocates for our estuaries. If we all continue to work in the spirit of protecting the amazing natural gifts afforded to us on the seacoast, we can and will maintain thriving estuaries that are worthy of celebrating again next year.

Rachel Rouillard is director of the Piscataqua Regional Estuaries Partnership. Cory Riley is manager of the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

PREP is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, a joint program between local, state and federal agencies established under the Clean Water Act with the goal of protecting and enhancing nationally significant estuarine resources. PREP is supported in part by an EPA matching grant and is housed within the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at the University of New Hampshire.

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