Environmental Monitoring Benefits Ecosystem, Economy, and Citizens

The Takeaway: The System-Wide Monitoring Program has logged over 71 million observations that inform decisions about storm resilience, water quality, public safety, and much more.

The National Estuarine Research Reserves document environmental change by monitoring water quality, water temperature, weather, biodiversity, land use, and habitat. People use these data to understand current conditions, spot trends, and document how natural and man-made changes affect ecosystems and communities.

Estuary health is critical to the nation’s economy, with total fish catch in estuaries contributing $4.3 billion annually and estuaries serving as nurseries to more than 75 percent of all fish and shellfish harvested. Much of the $8-to-$12 billion annual tourism and recreation economy takes place in marshes, which also provide the greatest natural defense against intensifying storms and sea level rise by absorbing floodwaters and cutting damage-related costs.

The research reserves’ monitoring program encompasses all 30 reserves in 21 states. Over 71 million observations have been logged to date. The stories below highlight a few of the program’s many benefits.

  • In Alaska, the Kachemak Bay Reserve’s potentially lifesaving shellfish toxin alerts are provided to state officials, area commercial oyster farms, and thousands of recreational and subsistence shellfish harvesters. Alaska’s seafood industry employs more people than any other private industry in the state, and fishermen in this North Pacific region made $238 million from crab alone in 2014.
  • Testing by sixteen reserves found that Pacific Coast tidal marshes are better positioned to thrive amid rising seas than those on the Atlantic Coast. Reserve scientists developed the first methodology designed to document climate change impacts on marshlands and produced a “do it yourself” resilience calculator for use by all coastal communities.
  • In Wisconsin, data from the Lake Superior Reserve play a central role in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ use of dredge materials to build sheltered, storm-resistant restoration areas. Data from California’s San Francisco Bay Reserve also inform Marin County’s dredge-material reuse to restore marsh areas and lower hazard risks.
  • In South Carolina, the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve’s weather and water data are used to alert swimmers and businesses when harmful bacteria levels rise high enough to close beaches. Similar reserve monitoring and alerts go out to beachgoers or shellfish consumers in Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Texas.
  • In Wisconsin, monitoring data from the Lake Superior Reserve aid the large-scale cleanup of the 12,000-acre St. Louis River Estuary. The monitoring data document sediments, chlorophyll, and industrial pollutant levels. Improving these levels are essential to getting the “Beneficial Use Impairment” status delisted by 2025, which would mean this estuary’s chemical, physical, and biological integrity have been restored.
  • In Maryland, data from the Chesapeake Bay Reserve are used to populate Bay water-quality report cards. Poor water quality can affect the health of commercial fisheries, which in 2015 reported profits of more than $88 million within the Chesapeake Bay-Maryland.

More stories about the benefits of the research reserve system’s monitoring program are below. (2017)

More Information: System-Wide Monitoring Program

Fast Fact: Did you know that more than 63 million water quality and weather observations have been made through the research reserves’ System Wide Monitoring Program? For more statistics related to this story, check out Research Reserves and Aquaculture.