top of page

Bridging the Gap: Community Partnerships for Estuarine Health and Sustainability

By: Monterey Rayman

Estuaries provide coastal ecosystems with waste management, protection from storms, a habitat for wildlife, and a place for recreation. Many types of estuaries are found where rivers meet the sea. Estuaries support life for unique plant and animal communities, due to their brackish waters. Human activities and natural disturbances, such as waves or large storms, have decreased estuary health. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, or NEP, called for restoration plans. Currently, twenty-eight unique estuaries across the country are in the restoration process. Within this plan, the biggest challenge can be convincing local communities of the benefits of restoring these degraded habitats. Unfortunately, intrinsic value isn’t always enough, especially for areas unseen to the eye. Research has shown that restoring estuaries with local stakeholders in mind can increase community engagement toward continued involvement in maintaining these ecosystems.

Massachusetts contains a variety of different estuarine communities. Together, the EPA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts created the Buzzards Bay Project which turned into the NEP within the reauthorization of the Clean Water Act of 1987. The Buzzard Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) was one of the first coastal watershed plans of the United States. The CCMP contains specific actions to address the range of environmental problems facing the estuary, including habitat loss and degradation. 

Each CCMP may have different focus areas, such as preserving open space, developing conservation easements for riparian buffer areas, and restoration or creation of habitats through revegetation programs. The CCMP may contain other means of improving water quality through upgrades in wastewater treatment plants, and stormwater and septic systems. The CCMP can monitor and map critical areas, create educational activities, and conduct public outreach. All efforts are carried out through partnerships between the federal, state, and local agencies with assistance from private and nonprofit sectors. The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported nonprofit organization that works to improve the health of its ecosystem by educating the 18 communities within the Buzzard Bay region to spread the importance of conservation, research, and advocacy.

Photo of Salt marsh tidal creek in Westport near Cockeast Pond. Photo by Molly Weiner.

The Buzzard Bay Coalition's advocation for community involvement is not only for coastal communities. Eighteen communities within the Buzzard Bay region utilize its watershed or coast. The non-profit organization has different ways for any city to get involved in protecting this precious resource. A community member can even check on the current Bay Health and different points of the Bay with an interactive map. Those on the coastline may already see the benefits of the Buzzard Bay Coalition effort with all of the recreational activities available in the area. Locals can hike, fish, shellfish, swim, hunt, observe wildlife, and boat on the waters. 

Buzzards Bay serves as an exemplary model for estuary restoration, demonstrating the power of community involvement and investment in conservation efforts. While not all estuaries may prioritize engagement with local stakeholders, it remains critical to honor the commitments of those dedicated to the long-term health of these vital ecosystems. Whether or not you reside near an estuary, there are actions you can take in your community today to safeguard clean water for all. Remember, all rivers lead to the sea, making every local effort toward conservation and restoration essential for the broader ecological balance (Buzzards Bay Coalition, n.d.). 


Work Cited

Buzzards Bay Coalition (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2024, from

EPA. (2024, February 15). Habitat Plans from the National Estuary Program [Government]. NEP Communities Design Local Solutions for Restoring Habitat.

NOAA. (2022, May 2). National Ocean Service [Government]. Estuaries.

Swain, P. (2020). Estuarine Communities Descriptions.

Yee, S. H., Sharpe, L. M., Branoff, B. L., Jackson, C. A., Cicchetti, G., Jackson, S., Pryor, M., & Shumchenia, E. (2023). Ecosystem services profiles for communities benefitting from estuarine habitats along the Massachusetts coast, USA. Ecological Informatics, 77, 102182.


bottom of page