Saturday, September 24, 2011

Happy National Estuaries Day

What is an estuary and why would someone declare a national day for them?     And how do you remember to spell estuary?     Well, an estuary is the extremely important ecosystem where fresh water from rivers meets the salty water of the sea.   The Chesapeake Bay in its entirety is one of the largest estuaries in the world.   Our little Indian River is an estuary in its own right.    Fresh water from rivers, like the little - and today rain swollen - creek in our Indian River Park, flows into the vast tidal expanses of the bay.   The mixed water is brackish - slight salty - supporting a unique mix of animals and vegetation.

These shallow tidal waters can support lush marshes, which in turn provide nurseries for a wide variety of fish and shellfish.   While some shellfish, like oysters and clams, stay put, the fish and certain shellfish like blue crabs migrate into deeper water as they grow.   The plants of the marsh also provide critical food for migrating birds including ducks, geese, redwing blackbirds, and rails.   The estuarine marshes also act as important sponges, slowing down flood waters - both those coming downstream from heavy rains and those being pushed upland from high winds.    The marshes filter out sediment and absorb excess nutrients.

Our little Indian River estuary lies amid a long established suburb.    The waters are laden with too many fertilizers and too much bacteria, due to rain runoff from our streets and yards.   Too often we've built rigid bulkheads obstructing the marshes.   Yet, even in the Indian River acres of marshland still strive to provide their ecosystem services.   Ducks and redwings stopover on migration.   There are fish to be caught by patrolling osprey, egrets, eagles, and the intrepid fisherman.  You can even find the occasional oysters, although not anywhere in their historical numbers back when Indian River Road was called the Princess Anne Shell Road.   The waterside provides scenic beauty and enhances property values.

So, we celebrate National Estuaries Day to give thanks for the bounty provided by these precious waters and to remind us to take care of them so that will get better and be there for us tomorrow.

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