Environmental conditions in the coastal zone are in decline due to increased coastal development and pollution. Using land-use modeling and environmental observations, we are determining the specific links between coastal pollution and non-point source runoff and ecosystem health in estuaries of the southeastern United States.
Why We Care
A key factor in the decline of environmental conditions within the coastal zone is the unprecedented increase in human population growth, particularly in the southeastern United States. Presently, more than half of the United States population—153 million people—live in coastal communities adjacent to the more than 66,645 miles of estuarine and coastal shoreline. The compression of more than 50 percent of the population into the coastal zone, representing only eight percent of the planet’s surface, creates a dilemma for environmental managers faced with the daunting task of maintaining environmental quality in the wake of booming urbanization and population growth.
A growing coastal population leads to increased coastal pollution, including non-point source runoff of nutrients, microbes, and chemical contaminants, which may impact coastal ecosystems. Increases in the volume and flux of storm water runoff associated with urbanization and coastal development may adversely affect water quality, public health, and the quality of coastal ecosystem health.
Understanding the relationship between coastal pollution, water quality, and ecosystem health is necessary for resource managers to prepare for and mitigate the effects of coastal development and make better land-use decisions in the future.
What We Are Doing
We are evaluating relationships between land-use modeling of non-point source pollution and observed patterns of ecosystem health measured in NOAA National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs) and neighboring non-NERRs estuaries along the southeastern U.S. and in selected watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay (i.e., Corsica, Magothy, Rhodes and possibly others).
We will use OpenNSPECT, a modeling and simulation tool developed to investigate potential water-quality impacts from development, other land uses, and climate change. Previously collected data on ecosystem health, based on multiple indicators of biological and abiotic environmental condition, in NERRs and other southeastern estuaries and in several watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay, will serve as the primary data sets to compare against OpenNSPECT model predictions.
A major goal of the project will be to explore how well the OpenNSPECT model outputs agree with observed patterns of ecosystem health in these estuaries, and to investigate potential changes in health resulting from any future changes in land-use patterns. Another related goal is to link the ecological health data sets used in this project to NOAA’s Coastal Services Center’s (CSC) Digital Coast—a Web-based portal of information and assessment tools for coastal managers.
NCCOS partners for this project include CSC, the NERRs Program, and NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.