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 About Estuaries

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.

Enhancing Wastewater Management on Cape Cod: Planning, Administrative, and Legal Tools (PDF)
A companion piece to the report above. July 2004.

Report to Barnstable County on Planning, Administrative and Legal Tools to Improve Wastewater Management on Cape Cod (PDF)
Improving wastewater management on Cape Cod without conflicting with other planning processes, and exploring watershed-based wastewater-management options.

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 Project Reports

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 for Restoration Guidance

US Environmental Protection Agency

National Estuary Program

Impaired Waters & Total Maximum Daily Loads

Watershed-based NPDES Permitting

Cape Cod

Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC)

Cape Cod Commission

Cape Cod Groundwater Guardian Team

Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (WBNERR)

Buzzards Bay

Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program

Coalition for Buzzards Bay

Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD)


Additional Resources for Related Links


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