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You Can Help Protect Our Coastal Esturaries - August 10, 2010

Estuaries are places where rivers meet the sea - where freshwater from rivers and streams meet and mix with salt water from the ocean to create a brackish body of water which supports an abundance of life. Estuaries are critical to the health of coastal environments. They are also the places where we live, work, and play.

In the entire country, there are only 28 designated National Estuary Programs – recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as estuaries of national significance. Two are right here on Delmarva: the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays.

The EPA’s National Estuary Program (NEP) was established by Congress in 1987 to improve the quality of estuaries of national importance. NEPs are funded through the EPA by the Clean Water Act. Additional dollars are raised locally to assist with NEP projects and programs.

NEPs are effective, efficient, collaborative, and adaptive community-based programs. They work to protect public water supplies, indigenous population of shellfish, fish, and wildlife, and to control point and nonpoint sources of pollution. NEPs also work to protect our opportunities to participate in recreational activities, in and on water – clean water.

Each NEP establishes a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan to guide their activities and protect their estuary and surrounding watershed, the land which surrounds and drains into the bays. NEPs use science to inform decision-making, emphasize collaborative problem-solving, and involve the public in planning and implementation.

The success of the overall National Estuary Program is largely a result of the individual programs' ability to develop long term, sustainable finance strategies. On average, the National Estuary Programs (NEPs) raise $14 for every $1 provided by EPA. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program successfully leverages $19 for every $1 received from the EPA. That’s a fantastic return on the investment federal funds – all for the benefit of protecting our local waterways, livelihoods, and unique coastal culture.

Maryland's coastal bays and Delaware’s inland bays are of the richest, most diverse estuaries on the eastern seaboard. For more than a century, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, and more recently tourism, have sustained ways of life built on the land and water resources in these coastal communities.

Balancing growth with natural resource protection is a challenge these two NEPs face. Increasing concentrations of people in our coastal areas can upset the natural balance of estuarine ecosystems and threaten their integrity. Channels are dredged, waters polluted, marshes and tidal flats filled, and shorelines reconstructed to accommodate human housing, transportation, and agriculture needs. Stresses caused by overuse of resources and unchecked land use practices have resulted in unsafe drinking water, beach and shellfish bed closings, harmful algal blooms, unproductive fisheries, loss of habitat, fish kills, and a host of other human health and natural resource problems.

So, what can you do?

·         Learn more about estuaries. Knowledge is power.

·         Keep septic systems working properly. Pump your system every three years.

·         Pave less. Hard surfaces hasten runoff and increase pollution and erosion.

·         Adhere to “no-wake” zones when on your boat. Waves destroy shorelines and increase erosion.

·         Think before your pour. Many hazardous products flow from household drains through sewage treatment plants and into coastal bodies of water.

·         Fish respectfully. Follow “catch and release” practices and keep more fish alive.

·         Create non-toxic pesticides. A bit of soap and water does the job and keeps harmful chemicals from ending up in nearby waterways.

·         Use native plants. Garden and landscape with plants native to your area to reduce the need for watering and fertilizing.

·         Respect habitat. Treat the homes of vital marine life with care. Habitat and survival go hand-in-hand. When habitat disappears, so do many plants and animals.

·         Take action! Contact your local NEPs to see how you can become involved as a volunteer. You can also become a member of your local NEP and help to provide financial support. Visit and to learn more. 

If you’re interested in helping to protect our coastal bays, please contact the Maryland Coastal Bays Program at or visit for more information.

Carrie Samis is the Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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