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Assessing the Ecological Condition of Southeast US Estuaries

James E. Harvey 1, Corey Garza 1, Linda Harwell 1, Tom Heitmuller 2, Virginia Engle 1, Lisa Smith 1, John Macauley 1, and J. Kevin Summers 1

1 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1 Sabine Island Drive, Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
2 USGS c/o U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1 Sabine Island Drive, Gulf Breeze, FL 32561

As a means to assess ecological condition, 151 stations located in southeastern estuaries from Cape Henry, Virginia to Biscayne Bay, Florida were sampled by state agencies during the summer of 2000 using a probabilistic design. The design used 8 size classes of estuaries ranging from 419.15km2 to 4.19km2. Water quality, benthic condition, sediment condition, and fish tissue contaminants were measured. The overall condition of Southeast estuaries rated 'fair to good,' based on these measurements. Water quality was rated 'fair to good' based on measurements of DIN, DIP, chlorophyll a, water clarity and dissolved oxygen. Only 5% of the estuarine area received a rating of poor, while 48% was rated as good and 47% rated as fair. Southeast estuarine sediments are also rated as 'fair to good', with 92% good and 8% poor. The estimation of sediment condition was based on measurements of sediment toxicity, sediment chemistry, and TOC. Benthic condition of southeast estuaries was rated as 'fair'. Southeast estuarine condition based on concentrations of contaminants in fish tissues is rated as 'good'. Only 5% of all sites sampled where fish were caught (6 of 199) sites, exceeded risk-based criteria guidelines using whole-fish contaminant concentrations. Neither environmental stressors nor conditions for aquatic life showed signs of serious ecological impairment during the monitoring period. However, increasing population growth in the Southeast could result in increased water quality degradation.

Keywords: Southeast, ecological condition, National Coastal Assessment, estuaries

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