Protecting & Restoring Long Island's Peconic Bays

Estuaries 101

What is an estuary and why are estuaries important?

A view of the Peconic Estuary
A view of the Peconic Estuary.

Most Productive Ecosystems on Earth

Fish in a Teaching Photographic Tank

Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems on earth. A large variety of animals including fish, birds, crabs, shellfish and other wildlife use estuaries for feeding, nesting, breeding and nursery areas. In fact, more than 80 percent of all fish and shellfish species use estuaries as primary habitat or as a spawning or nursery ground. Some animals like clams live in the estuary their entire lives while other animals like horseshoe crabs only use the estuary for part of their lives. These thriving ecosystems also serve as a stopover point for migratory birds to take a rest and eat before continuing their journey.

ESTUARY: a body of water where the fresh water from land and the salt water from the ocean mix together.

The living resources provided by estuaries support commercial fishing and shellfishing; it is estimated that more than 600 commercial fish species spend some part of their lives in an estuary. In addition, estuaries support water-dependent and water-related industries such as tourism, recreation, restaurants and marinas. These coastal areas are also a great place to enjoy the beauty of estuaries while enjoying activities like kayaking, swimming, fishing and hiking. It is our responsibility to protect and preserve these vital habitats and wildlife to preserve the recreational, cultural and economic value for future generations.

People examining marine life caught in a seine net.

The health of an estuary is directly related to what we do on land. The land encompassed by the Peconic Estuary Study Area is the watershed or groundwater contributing area. In other words, the watershed is the area of  land that carries water “shed” after rain falls and snow melts to the Peconic Estuary.

WATERSHED: the area of land that drains into a particular body of water.

Drop by drop, water is channeled into soils, groundwaters, creeks, and streams,making its way to larger rivers, through the estuary and eventually the sea. The Peconic Estuary system is comprised of more than 100 distinct bays, harbors, embayments, and tributaries, and each of these bodies of water has a watershed that drains into that specific body of water – these are called subwatersheds. Wherever you live, you are part of a watershed!

How much do you know about estuaries? Take our estuary quiz to find out!

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