Estuary Resources

Estuary background image with color overlay

What Are Estuaries?

An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water (such as a bay, lagoon, sound, or slough) where two other bodies of water, usually saltwater and freshwater, meet and mix. Freshwater estuaries occur where freshwater from a river or stream mixes with water from a lake that is chemically distinct. Scentists classify these environments using two characteristics: geology and water circulation.

Estuaries are often called the nurseries of the sea because so many marine animals depend on them as a food source or spend some part of their lives there. Many plants and animals, including many species of concern, are especially adapted to live in these unique environments. Estuaries are also a major stopover point for migratory animals, and coastal communities rely on estuaries for tourism, shipping and transportation, and fishing.

Each estuary displays unique beauty. One estuary may be enclosed by marshes and barrier islands, while others have a coastline or reef border. Examples include Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Boston Harbor, Tampa Bay, and Puget Sound.

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Protecting Estuaries: Research Reserves

One way the United States protects its estuaries is through the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. These sites, which protect over 1.3 million acres, provide monitoring data, research, and community and educational opportunities. Several laws and executive orders form the statutory basis of the Research Reserve System, which was created by Section 315 of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972.

How to Get Involved

Estuaries require everyone’s help and hard work to keep them clean and safe. You can contribute in many ways to protect estuaries and conserve the valuable natural resource in estuarine ecosystems

  • 10 ways - PDF you can protect estuaries.
  • Contact an Education Coordinator - PDF at a reserve near you.
  • Get in touch with your local reserve to learn about volunteer opportunities.
  • Find your local reserve below and get in touch to learn about volunteer opportunities.

Reserve Volunteer Information

Website Phone
Alabama Weeks Bay (251) 928-9792
Alaska Kachemak Bay (907) 235-4799
California Elkhorn Slough (831) 728-2822
California San Francisco Bay (415) 338-3707
California Tijuana River (619) 575-3613
Delaware Delaware (302) 739-3436
Florida Apalachicola (850) 670-7700
Florida Guana Tolomato Matanzas (904) 823-4500
Florida Rookery Bay (239) 417-6310, ext. 412
Georgia Sapelo Island (912) 485-2300
Maine Wells (207) 646-1555, ext. 118
Maryland Chesapeake Bay (410) 260-8730
Massachusetts Waquoit Bay (508) 457-0495, ext. 108
Mississippi Grand Bay (228) 475-7047
New Hampshire Great Bay (603) 778-0015
New Jersey Jacques Cousteau (609) 812-0649, ext. 203
New York Hudson River (845) 889-4745, ext. 114
North Carolina North Carolina (252) 838-0883
Ohio Old Woman Creek (419) 433-4601
Oregon South Slough (541) 888-5558, ext. 58
Puerto Rico Jobos Bay (787) 853-4617
Rhode Island Narragansett Bay (401) 683-1478
South Carolina ACE Basin (843) 953-9001
South Carolina North Inlet-Winyah Bay (843) 546-6219
Texas Mission-Aransas (361) 749-3153
Virginia Chesapeake Bay (804) 684-7135
Washington Padilla Bay (360) 428-1070
Wisconsin Lake Superior (715) 685-2652