Economics of Estuaries

Economics of Estuaries

Estuaries, the transition zones where rivers meet the sea, provide the focal point around which coastal communities grow. The local bay or sound nurtures a high quality of life and maintains the health and traditions of our communities.

An estuary is also a tremendous economic resource which provides jobs to coastal communities. The U.S. coasts generate roughly 56 million jobs.

Many of these jobs come from commercial and recreational fishing, which alone employ 1.7 million people and contribute $212 billion to the nation’s economy. And it’s important to keep in mind that:

The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Courtesy of NOAA.

  • Estuaries produce more food per acre than the most productive mid-western farmland;
  • 75% of commercial fish and 80-90% of recreational fish species depend upon estuaries for their primary habitat, spawning grounds, and nursery areas;
  • Shore adjacent counties account for more than 43% of total United States GDP;
  • Coastal tourism generates an economic value of about $531 billion;
  • Employment for coastal tourism and recreation increased by 6.3% from 2015 to 2016, faster than the overall US economy’s growth of 1.7%.;
  • Estuaries do far more for our economy than supporting industries and providing jobs. Estuaries provide significant “services” which directly benefit Americans. For example, estuaries protect landowners from flood waters and provide important buffers that protect water quality by filtering runoff.

Beyond these measurable benefits, estuaries are at the heart of so many of our coastal communities. Without healthy estuaries, ways of life that have defined our communities for generations would disappear. The value of restoring and strengthening our estuaries can, in the end, really only be measured by the value each of us place on the quality of life we pass on to our future generations.

Additional Resources

Read the report Jobs & Dollars: Big returns from coastal habitat restoration.

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