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15 Years of Monitoring Estuaries - What have we learned?

Virginia D. Engle

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Breeze, Florida

EPA’s Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) began monitoring the condition of estuaries in 1990. Surveys in the 1990s focused on assessing the condition of estuaries in biogeographical provinces (e.g., Virginian, Louisianian) using ecological indicators of exposure, response, and habitat. The National Coastal Assessment (NCA) began in 2000 to assess the condition of U.S. estuaries using state-based probability survey designs, indicators of water and sediment quality, biological condition, and fish tissue contaminants, in partnerships with coastal states. The results from these EMAP surveys have been compiled in National Coastal Condition Reports which provide regional and national report cards on the condition of U.S. estuaries.

Over the past 15 years, we have witnessed an evolution in the way regional and national assessments of estuarine condition are conducted. Probability survey designs have become more streamlined, ecological indicators have become more relevant, and our ability to evaluate status and trends in estuarine condition at regional and national scales has improved substantially. The NCA approach has proven to be better, faster and cheaper and represents an efficient use of leveraged resources achieving optimum return on federal and state monitoring investments. The third draft National Coastal Condition Report (currently in review) reports on trends in condition of estuaries since the 1990’s. The overall condition of U.S. estuaries is fair and has improved only slightly over the last decade. Water quality in U.S. estuaries has improved substantially while smaller improvements in sediment quality and fish tissue contaminants were noted. Benthic condition and coastal habitat condition have shown little or no improvement.

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