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Coastal Resources & Estuaries

Why estuaries are important, and what we can do to protect them.

Estuaries are critical ecological and economic resources. The Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP), a collaborative effort of MassDEP and the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, was started in 2001 to study the problem of nutrient buildup in estuaries on the southeastern coast of the state. Research from this project helps MassDEP develop Total Maximum Daily Loads for these waterbodies.

Table of Contents

About estuaries

An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water, and its surrounding coastal habitats, where saltwater from the ocean mixes with fresh water from rivers or streams. Estuaries are vital to both ecological health and the economy, as they provide habitat for many kinds of marine life and commercially important species such as oysters. They also serve as recreational areas and transportation centers. 

Additional Resources

Project reports

In addition to the reports prepared for the Massachusetts Estuaries Project, MassDEP and external groups prepared a number of associated reports.

Nitrogen Loading Thresholds for Harwich Embayment Systems
Results of a project designed to assist the Town of Harwich in efforts to manage nitrogen loads as part of its environmental management strategy. May 2010.

Massachusetts Estuaries Project Interim Report on Site-Specific Nitrogen Thresholds for Southeastern Massachusetts Embayments: Critical Indicators
Report on key water-quality indicators for nitrogen loading in the state's southeastern estuaries.

Nitrogen Modeling to Support Watershed Management: Comparison of Approaches and Sensitivity Analysis
This report is aimed at ensuring that the proper assessment, modeling, and management approaches are applied to address the health of estuarine ecosystems.

Additional Resources

Monitoring marine benthic habitat: guidance and Quality Assurance Project Plan

To ensure quality marine benthic habitat data collection for baseline or post-TMDL implementation monitoring, MassDEP developed guidance, a Quality Assurance Project Plan, and standard operating procedures for the field and the laboratory. These documents are appropriate for use along the entire Massachusetts coastline.

Restoration guidance

Embayment Restoration and Guidance for Implementation Strategies
Pathways to achieving healthy estuaries and recommendations for attaining them, with a focus on nitrogen reduction.

Embayment Restoration and Guidance for Implementation Strategies Appendices
Technical and reference materials and case studies for the Embayment Restoration Guidance.

Additional Resources

Other organizations involved in estuary protection and research

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