Coral reef at Biscayne Bay
Credit: National Park Service
Sandy Hills
Credit: USFWS
Coastal Marsh, Chassahowitzka NWR
Credit: Joyce Kleen
Kachemak Bay
Credit: NOAA

What are estuaries?

Estuaries are coastal waterbodies where freshwater rivers and streams join the ocean. These transitional zones include a diverse array of highly productive habitats, such as oyster reefs, bays, lagoons, salt marshes, tidal creeks, and bayous.

Estuaries contain some of the most biologically and economically important habitats in the country. They provide unique feeding and nesting habitat for many migratory birds, and aquatic plants and wildlife, including commercially important species of fish and shellfish. They also provide other valuable ecosystem services, such as water filtration, flood dissipation, and recreation.

Estuarine habitats throughout the country are degraded or impaired due to pollution, sediment, altered hydrology, and invasive species, among numerous other threats. Estuarine habitat loss impacts wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; as well as, national and local economies, including loss of tourism and commercial fisheries.

Estuary Restoration Act (ERA) of 2000

The ERA establishes estuary restoration as national priority, and facilitates restoration through its goals:

  1. Promoting and implementing estuary habitat restoration projects throughout the country using a coordinated federal approach;
  2. Creating and maintaining effective partnerships among government agencies and the private sector;
  3. Providing federal technical and financial assistance for estuary habitat restoration projects; and
  4. Developing and enhancing monitoring, data sharing, and research capabilities to link restoration efforts to sound science.

Estuary Habitat Restoration Council

The ERA created the interagency Estuary Habitat Restoration Council (Council) responsible for carrying out the directives of the ERA, including administering the financial and technical assistance program, preparing monitoring data standards for estuary restoration projects, and developing a restoration project inventory. The interagency members are:


collage of Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was elected Council Chair in 2013 for a three-year term.

Draft Revised Monitoring Data Standards
The ERA mandated the development of monitoring data standards, which the Council published in 2003. The Council revised the standards to provide additional information and clarify certain requirements. The revised standards provide additional details on defining project goals, objectives, success criteria, and on preparing project evaluations.  The Council intends to formally approve the revised standards by the Fall of 2015.

Here is a summary of the monitoring data standards:

  • Goals and Objectives: Goals should describe the overall purpose of the restoration project. Objectives should represent specific measurable and tangible outcomes for a project. Restoration projects can have one or more goals and objectives depending on the complexity of the project.
  • Success Criteria:  Project objectives should be the basis for success criteria used to evaluate project performance.  Success criteria are required for at least one structural and one functional parameter. Structural habitat characteristics define the physical, chemical, and biological composition of the habitat.  Functional habitat characteristics describe ecological processes and services provided by a habitat.
  • Monitoring Question Development: Developing a monitoring question can guide the selection of parameters used to evaluate whether a project meets its objectives and success criteria.
  • Required Parameters: Baseline and post construction monitoring are required. Parameters must include at least one structural and one functional parameter assessed for five years post construction at a duration and frequency appropriate for the chosen parameters and site conditions.
  • Project Evaluation: The final monitoring report will include an overall project evaluation. The purpose of the project evaluation is to document the overall project success as defined by the goals, objectives, and success criteria. The evaluation should also present lessons learned on how to improve project planning, implementation, monitoring, and analysis techniques. The evaluation will benefit the science of restoration, and may inform design of future projects with similar goals.

The monitoring data standards are a requirement for all estuary restoration projects supported by ERA funds; however, the Council hopes that the revised standards will promote monitoring in general, and provide standards that restoration practitioners can apply to any estuary restoration project. The draft of the revised monitoring data standards is available here.