The majority of U.S. estuaries are highly influenced by human-related activities, and conditions are likely to worse, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration comprehensive assessment.
The report, released Tuesday, cites eutrophication, or nutrient pollution, as an increasing threat to marine habitat.
"Observations have confirmed that our nation's coastal waters are stressed," says retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.
"One thing we have learned from this study is that while the accumulation of nutrients in our estuaries has been stable in most of our estuaries, conditions are likely to worsen. The potential for serious degradation in most of our estuaries necessitates that we reinvigorate efforts to address nutrient pollution, and this study helps to confirm that an ecosystem approach is required for improving the health of our estuaries."
The report found that of 99 estuaries under evaluation, 64 have moderate to high level nutrient related impacts. Most of the problems are related to human activities, according to lead report author Suzanne Bricker, Ph.D., of NOAA's Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment. "These impacts are occurring in a watershed that currently supports 53% of the nation's population, and excluding Alaska accounts for only 17% of the nation's land mass. The scientists' assessment is that the ecological health of our coastal waters is seriously threatened by nutrient pollution."
The report predicts conditions to worsen over the next decade in 65% of the nation's estuaries.