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 will help MassDEP develop Total Maximum Daily Loads for these waterbodies.

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 for

Project Reports

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

Nitrogen Loading Thresholds for Harwich Embayment Systems (PDF)
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 (PDF)
Report on key water quality indicators for nitrogen loading in the state's southeastern estuaries.

Cape Cod Comprehensive Regional Wastewater Management Strategy Development Project (PDF)
This report evaluated wastewater infrastructure and potential solutions for the Cape. June 2003.

Nitrogen Modeling to Support Watershed Management: Comparison of Approaches and Sensitivity Analysis (PDF)
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 for

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.

Marine Benthic Macrofaunal Monitoring Guidance

MEP Marine Benthic Monitoring Quality Assurance Project Plan

MEP Benthic Monitoring Field Standard Operating Procedures

MEP Benthic Monitoring Laboratory Standard Operating Procedures

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.

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