National Estuarine Research Reserve System
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About Estuaries
Quick Facts About Estuaries

Our nation's estuaries are fascinating places where lots of plans and animals live and adapt to the ever changing conditions...

Did you know that ...?

Fact 1. Estuaries, where fresh and salt water mix, are among the most ecologically and economically important and productive ecosystems on the planet. More than two thirds of the fish and shellfish we eat spend some part of their lives in estuaries.

Fact 2. An estuary is a body of water partly surrounded by land where fresh water from rivers and streams runs into and mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuary is another name for bay, sound, inlet, harbor, lagoon -- what's important is the mixing of fresh and salt water.

Fact 3. Slough is a colloquial term used in the Pacific northwest to describe the quiet, backwater inlets of a bay.  Coos Bay has many sloughs, of which South Slough is one.  We also have Isthmus Slough, Catching Slough, Coalbank
Slough and many others.  The term is used in other parts of the country to describe old river channels that are still wetland areas, but usually off stream or entirely disconnected from the river.

Fact 4. Of the 32 largest cities in the world, 22 are located on estuaries.

Fact 5. Estuaries provide habitat for more than 75 percent of the U.S. commercial fish catch, and an even greater percentage of the recreational fish catch (National Safety Council’s Environmental Center, 1998). The total fish catch in estuaries contributes $4.3 billion a year to the U.S. economy (ANEP, 1998).

Fact 6. Georgia is the western most state on the east coast and, therefore, has the greatest average tide of about 7 feet, with some tides up to 11 feet.

Fact 7. San Francisco Bay is one of the largest estuaries on the U.S. West Coast, and one of only a few that is similar in size to those found on the East Coast.

Fact 8. Tides at the Kachemak Bay, where the Kachemak Bay NERR is located in Alaska, fluctuate as much as 28 vertical-feet in 6 hours!

Fact 9. The greatest threat to estuaries is, by far, their large-scale conversion by draining, filling, damming or dredging. These activities result in the immediate destruction and loss of estuarine habitats. Until the last few decades, many estuary habitats in North America were drained and converted into agricultural areas; others were filled to create shipping ports and expand urban areas. In the United States, 38 percent of the wetlands associated with coastal areas have been lost to these types of activities (Good et al., 1998). In some areas, the estuarine habitat loss is as high as 60 percent.

Fact 10. In November 2000, the Estuary Restoration Act (ERA) was signed into law. It makes restoring our nation’s estuaries a national priority, with a goal of restoring one million acres of estuarine habitat by 2010. NOAA is providing the necessary data, science, tools and long-term monitoring efforts to help reach the ERA’s million-acre goal.


Last Updated on: Tuesday, September 08, 2009
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