NOAA Scientist: Human Development is Important Indicator of Tidal Creek Health

Study Also Notes Public Health Implications

November 8, 2007

A new NOAA study reveals that the level of human development activities, including roadways, sidewalks and roofs, in a watershed has a direct impact on the health of America's tidal creeks and may potentially threaten public health in those coastal areas. The report was issued this week at the Estuarine Research Federation International Conference in Providence, R.I.

"The health of America's tidal creeks provides an early warning of the effects of coastal development on both coastal ecosystems and potential human health and well-being," said Fred Holland, Ph.D., director of NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, S.C. and lead author of the study.

Non-point source pollutants found in these creeks include chemicals, which could affect human health through the food chain, such as flame retardants and human pathogenic bacteria. Headwater portions of tidal creeks are the first marine ecosystems to respond to land based pollution, and provide early warning of the effects of coastal development on coastal ecosystems and public health.

Tidal creeks are a dominant feature of Southeastern estuaries. These creeks provide nursery grounds for many fish and crustaceans and their watersheds are preferred places for human development. The effects of land-based development, particularly paving which increases pollutant run-off into these creeks, are important to regional and local planners.

The affects of non-point runoff was determined through a comparative ecosystem study assessing coastal development through sampling of tidal creeks that drain watersheds. As a result of this work, a framework was developed that can be used to evaluate and predict how coastal development affects watersheds, ecological processes, and quality of life in the coastal zone. This research was done in collaboration with Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve systems.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts, and protects.