Reserve Data Help Safeguard Community and Watershed Health

The Takeaway: The System-Wide Monitoring Program detects estuary pollutant levels, toxic shellfish dangers, and many other threats to people and the environment.

Of the 32 largest cities in the world, 22 are located on estuaries. In the U.S., the National Estuarine Research Reserves System’s environmental monitoring program sounds the alert when water-quality conditions pose potential dangers to people, places, or natural resources, as shown by the following examples.

  • In Alaska, the Kachemak Bay Reserve’s harmful algal bloom alerts have been potentially lifesaving to thousands of recreational and subsistence shellfish consumers, with a recent Facebook post quickly reaching more than 18,000 rural residents to warn of toxic shellfish dangers.
  • In Wisconsin, monitoring data from the Lake Superior Reserve aid the large-scale cleanup of the 12,000-acre St. Louis River Estuary. The data document sediments, chlorophyll, and industrial pollutant levels. Improving these levels are essential to getting the estuary’s “Beneficial Use Impairment” status delisted by 2025, which would mean its chemical, physical, and biological integrity have been restored.
  • In South Carolina, data from the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve help communities and industries respond to saltwater intrusion from local tidal rivers during droughts, which can impair drinking water supplies and commercial uses.
  • In California, the San Francisco Bay Reserve is helping preserve the estuary’s food web by investigating the factors behind declining numbers of longfin smelt, a key forage fish.
  • In Mississippi, the Grand Bay Reserve’s water-quality monitoring data are used to alert the state shellfish program and citizens when toxins or bacteria reach dangerous levels. Similar data alerts for beachgoers or shellfish consumers are aided by reserves in Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas.
  • In New Hampshire, results from the Great Bay Reserve’s monitoring program convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do additional testing and monitoring of nutrient balance in the bay, which feeds into the Gulf of Maine, one of the cleanest and most productive water bodies in the world.
  • In Rhode Island, the Narragansett Bay Reserve’s water quality data are used by a state rapid response team for environmental incidents, such as when downpours overtop a water treatment plant or a sinking vessel leaks oil.
  • In Ohio, phosphorus monitoring by the Old Woman Creek Reserve helps officials keep water-quality conditions high. Documenting phosphorus runoff helps farmers, too, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pays farmers incentives for reducing phosphorus loads.
  • Data gathered by the Delaware Reserve’s meteorological stations are used by farmers to determine irrigation needs. (2017)

More Information: System-Wide Monitoring Program

Fast Fact: Did you know that the nation’s 30 research reserves cover and protect nearly 1.4 million acres of land and water? For more statistics related to this story, check out Research Reserves and Aquaculture.