The Marine Discovery Center is a world-class marine research and educational facility that features a bird rescue and rehabilitation center plus offers educational programs. The Marine Discovery Center offers ECHO boat tours on the Indian River Lagoon. You can observe close views of dolphins, manatees, ospreys and an abundance of wildlife while being led by a marine biologist. Two hour tours of the estuary filled with marine plants and animals on a 40 passenger pontoon boat are also available. You’ll be enlightened with local history of Indians and early explorers. The Marine Discovery Center, 118 North Causeway, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169. Phone: (386) 428-4828, Toll free: 1-866-257-4828
Turtle Mound Tours provides scenic, backwater pontoon boat trips on the Indian River and the Canaveral National Seashore. Each turn can bring a unique experience as you take a leisurely ride around the many mangrove islands. See nature unspoiled and watch dolphin, manatee and numerous birds in their natural habitat. Learn about the area's history, dating back to Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, and the importance of this saltwater estuary. A standard two-hour trip that meanders among mangrove islands, oyster bars, the Intracoastal Waterway and more. You should see a variety of birds and, during warm weather, manatees. We promise a comfortable trip and a lifetime of memories. Turtle Mound Tours 59 Pompano, New Smyrnaa Beach, FL 32169. Phone: (386) 409-9325.
What is an Estuary?
An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water formed where freshwater from rivers and streams flows into the ocean, mixing with the salty sea water. Estuaries and the lands surrounding them are places of transition from land to sea, and from fresh to salt water. Although influenced by the tides, estuaries are protected from the full force of ocean waves, winds, and storms by the reefs, barrier islands, or fingers of land, mud, or sand that define an estuary's seaward boundary.
Estuaries come in all shapes and sizes and go by many different names, often known as bays, lagoons, harbors, inlets, or sounds. (Note not all water bodies by those names are necessarily estuaries. The defining feature of an estuary is the mixing of fresh and salt water, not the name.) Some familiar examples of estuaries include San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Boston Harbor, and Tampa Bay.
The tidal, sheltered waters of estuaries support unique communities of plants and animals, specially adapted for life at the margin of the sea. Estuarine environments are among the most productive on earth, creating more organic matter each year than comparably-sized areas of forest, grassland, or agricultural land (1). Many different habitat types are found in and around estuaries, including shallow open waters, freshwater and salt marshes, sandy beaches, mud and sand flats, rocky shores, oyster reefs, mangrove forests, river deltas, tidal pools, sea grass and kelp beds, and wooded swamps.
The productivity and variety of estuarine habitats foster a wonderful abundance and diversity of wildlife. Shore birds, fish, crabs and lobsters, marine mammals, clams and other shellfish, marine worms, sea birds, and reptiles are just some of the animals that make their homes in and around estuaries. These animals are linked to one another and to an assortment of specialized plants and microscopic organisms through complex food webs and other interactions.
Estuaries are places where rivers meet the sea. They are fascinating and beautiful ecosystems distinct from all other places on earth.
Why are Estuaries Important?
Estuaries are critical for the survival of many species. Tens of thousands of birds, mammals, fish, and other wildlife depend on estuarine habitats as places to live, feed, and reproduce. Estuaries provide ideal spots for migratory birds to rest and refuel during their journeys. And many species of fish and shellfish rely on the sheltered waters of estuaries as protected places to spawn, giving them the nickname "nurseries of the sea." Hundreds of marine organisms, including most commercially valuable fish species, depend on estuaries at some point during their development (1).
Besides serving as important habitat for wildlife, the wetlands that fringe many estuaries also perform other valuable services. Water draining from the uplands carries sediments, nutrients, and other pollutants. As the water flows through fresh and salt marshes, much of the sediments and pollutants are filtered out. This filtration process creates cleaner and clearer water, which benefits both people and marine life (1). Wetland plants and soils also act as a natural buffer between the land and ocean, absorbing flood waters and dissipating storm surges. This protects upland organisms as well as valuable real estate from storm and flood damage (1). Salt marsh grasses and other estuarine plants also help prevent erosion and stabilize the shoreline.
Among the cultural benefits of estuaries are recreation, scientific knowledge, education, and aesthetic values. Boating, fishing, swimming, surfing, and bird watching are just a few of the numerous recreational activities people enjoy in estuaries. Estuaries are often the cultural centers of coastal communities, serving as the focal points for local commerce, recreation, celebrations, customs, and traditions (2). As transition zones between land and water, estuaries are invaluable laboratories for scientists and students, providing countless lessons in biology, geology, chemistry, physics, history, and social issues (1). Estuaries also provide a great deal of aesthetic enjoyment for the people who live, work, or recreate in and around them.
Finally, the tangible and direct economic benefits of estuaries should not be overlooked. Tourism, fisheries, and other commercial activities thrive on the wealth of natural resources estuaries supply. The protected coastal waters of estuaries also support important public infrastructure, serving as harbors and ports vital for shipping, transportation, and industry. Some attempts have been made to measure certain aspects of the economic activity that depends on America's estuaries and other coastal waters:
Estuaries provide habitat for more than 75% of America's commercial
fish catch, and for 80-90% of the recreational fish catch (5). Estuarine-dependent
fisheries are among the most valuable within regions and across the
nation, worth more than $1.9 billion in 1990, excluding Alaska (4).
Nationwide, commercial and recreational fishing, boating, tourism,
and other coastal industries provide more than 28 million jobs (2).
Commercial shipping alone employed more than 50,000 people as of January,
There are 25,500 recreational facilities along the U.S. coasts (5)-
almost 44,000 square miles of outdoor public receation areas (4). The
average American spends 10 recreational days on the coast each year.
In 1993 more than 180 million Americans visited ocean and bay beaches-
nearly 70% of the U.S. population. Coastal recreation and tourism generate
$8 to $12 billion annually (5).
In just one estuarine system- Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays- commercial
and recreational fishing generate about $240 million per year. In that
same estuary, tourism and beach-going generate $1.5 billion per year,
and shipping and marinas generate $1.86 billion per year (3).
In short, estuaries provide us with a whole suite of resources, benefits, and services. Some of these can be measured in dollars and cents, others can not. Estuaries are an irreplaceable natural resource that must be managed carefully for the mutual benefit of all who enjoy and depend on them.
Why Protect Estuaries?
The economy of many coastal areas is based primarily on the natural beauty and bounty of estuaries. When those natural resources are imperiled, so too are the livelihoods of the many people who live and work there. 110 million Americans- around half the U.S. population- now live in coastal areas, including the shores of estuaries. Coastal counties are growing three times faster than counties elsewhere in the nation.