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Organizations celebrate estuaries - October 4, 2012

Clean water, bountiful seafood, fishing fun, the perfect place to skim across the water in a kayak or cruise in a vessel with a little more horsepower, and a gorgeous view — that, and much more, is what healthy estuaries offer each of us.

Last week, agencies and organizations across the country celebrated National Estuaries Day. More than 100 people gathered at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., to celebrate our nation’s estuaries and to recognize the 25th anniversary of the National Estuary Program, signed into law in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan.

There are 28 federally-designated National Estuary Programs along our nation’s coasts and Puerto Rico. According the U.S. EPA, the National Estuary Program was established in 1987 under Section 320 of the Clean Water Act “to restore the water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance.” Each estuary program works within its community to develop a comprehensive conservation management plan designed to protect water quality, habitat and living resources within its watershed.

So, what is an estuary? It is that special place where the rivers meet the sea, where fresh and saltwater mix and create a dynamic brackish water system. Estuaries are among the most productive biological systems on earth. They have tremendous commercial value and offer important economic benefits. Over half of the U.S. population live along our coasts.

According to the National Ocean Economics Program, coastal watershed counties provide 69 million jobs and contributed $7.9 trillion to the Gross Domestic Product in 2007.

Participants in National Estuary Education Day included 8th grade students from Howard University Middle School of Science and Mathematics, EPA officials, Project WET, Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Coastal Stewards and Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP).

After listening to formal presentations and a panel discussion, MCBP Program Manager Bill Mahoney was impressed by the number of high ranking EPA officials that did not start their careers in the environmental field. “Seeing that provided perspective for the young people in the room. There are a wide range of skills and backgrounds needed to solve the environmental problems of our day, “ noted Mahoney.

MCBP intern Davonte Taylor was encouraged by the great questions the 8th graders were asking about environmental problems and how they can be solved. Additionally, hearing about obstacles encountered and overcome by people currently working in the field inspired Taylor.

Harrison Jackson, Coastal Steward coordinator, “appreciated the opportunity to meet EPA officials and talk to them about what we do and why it’s important for them to fund programs like ours that allow us to engage visitors and students in the work we are so passionate about.”

Two local students, both from Stephen Decatur High School, were invited to participate in the event, too. Tashonna Grant and Chelsea Lawson are employed by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program as Coastal Stewards. Tashonna Grant, an 11th grader, enjoyed sharing her knowledge about coastal bays wildlife with D.C. students. Grant “liked how interested and attentive they were. Their faces lit up when they got to touch clam shells and baleen from a whale.” Lawson, a 10th grader, enjoyed talking to the students about her work as a Coastal Steward at Assateague.

Students like Grant and Lawson are our future. Their future and the health of our estuaries are co-dependent. Each depends on the other. Each requires care and nurturing. Each should be celebrated — Grant, Lawson and Maryland’s coastal bays.

Learn more about our nation’s estuaries at www.epa.gov/nep.

 

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