Here on the Seacoast, this week we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of National Estuaries Week – a nationwide celebration of our bays and estuaries and the many benefits they provide to us all. Just like estuaries across the world, our Great Bay and Hampton-Seabrook estuaries provide vital resources, clean water and support the local economy in numerous ways.
Yet, more than a quarter century after the first National Estuaries Day in 1988, threats to our nation’s estuaries and coasts have never been more pressing. We invite you to join us Sept. 15-22 in celebration of our estuaries and the vital role they play in our community.
Most of us live here because we enjoy the coastal lifestyle and all of the beauty and benefits that come with it, like eating local oysters and seafood, boating, fishing and swimming. We all know our region is a great place to work, live, play, and raise our families. That’s true nationally as well. Americans love the water and we love our coasts.
Despite that love, as a nation we have lost more than half our original coastal wetlands over the past 200 years. Everything from salt marshes along the Atlantic and Pacific shorelines to the mangrove swamps ringing Florida and the Gulf Coast have seen declines. We have developed our shorelines, dredged our bays, drained stormwater and sewage and destroyed fisheries and shell beds. The very existence of the coasts and cities we love is now threatened. Here in New Hampshire and Maine our own estuaries have declined and are under stress due to a number of human impacts as well as other conditions such as increasing storm events, warming waters, and the spread of invasive species.
With the ongoing concern about our nation’s economic and financial health, it is important to recognize the value that protecting and restoring our estuaries delivers to both our local economy and nation.
Nationally, our coasts and estuaries are worth nearly $1 trillion annually to the American economy. Coastal waters add more than $800 billion in trade and commerce and tens of billions in recreational dollars. Some 43 percent of us live in coastal areas, accounting for 40 percent of all employment nationally – 69 million jobs in all – and a whopping 43 percent of our overall economic output!
Here in New Hampshire, our tourism industry is the largest source of revenue to the region and it relies on the clean, healthy and beautiful natural resources and waters that attract people to this place.
Locally, many communities like Durham, Exeter, Stratham, Newmarket, Dover, Rochester, Portsmouth, Hampton, Seabrook and Kittery are working hard to improve water quality and invest in the future of Great Bay and Hampton-Seabrook estuaries. They are tackling large infrastructure improvement projects, investing in land conservation, and working out on the roads every day to improve stormwater management. They, along with other communities, are reducing excessive salt application to the roads in the winter, constructing wetlands in urban areas to absorb excess water during big storms and limit flooding, and reminding residents to pick up pet waste. There are numerous other things we are all doing to protect this place we all call home.
So this year, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of National Estuaries Week, let’s all work locally in our own yards, neighborhoods and communities by supporting land conservation and restoration efforts along with other public infrastructure investments that keep us, our families, and our region clean, beautiful, and healthy place to live. How can you celebrate it? Get outside and do something you enjoy – or, try a Great Bay oyster for the first time, make the extra effort to pick up your pet’s waste during a walk, or go for a paddle on a waterway! You can also visit the Great Bay Discovery Center in Greenland with your family and talk a walk along the Great Bay on the boardwalk and visit the new display in the Visitor’s Center, or visit the new and interactive Gundalow exhibit in the Sheafe House on the banks of the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth.
We thank you for your partnership, and hope to see you out there!
Cory Riley is manager of the Great Bay National Research Reserve and Rachel Rouillard is director of the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP).