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Eutrophication and Great Bay

Great Bay

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About Great Bay - Why it is affected (geograpically) by Eutrophication?

The Great Bay is an estuary connected to the Gulf of Maine located in Strafford and Rockingham, in southeastern New Hampshire. Its twenty-one square miles of water are controlled mostly by tides. Great Bay is connected to eight different rivers, the Piscataqua, Lamprey, Squamscott, Winnicut, Cocheco, Bellamy, Salmon Falls, and Oyster rivers. Humans first moved to this area in the 1700s, using it for fishing and agriculture. During the 18th and 19th centuries, many trees were cleared from the area for agriculture and grazing. This increased the amount of runoff, especially when factoring in chemical fertilizers used in modern day. Towards more recent years, multiple waste treatment plants have cropped up around Great Bay, dumping their own waste into the estuary, filling it with excess nutrients. Many, many residential and vacation houses are located on Great Bay as well, as the body of water is ideal for many recreational activities. Due to the abundance of farming, concentration of people leading to human waste and paved surfaces, and waste plants located on Great Bay, it has become an area highly vulnerable to eutrophication. (Gulf Of Maine Education Association, UNH Magazine, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences)

What is a HAB or a Dead Zone? How Does it form?

A Dead Zone is an area that has little oxygen and cannot support marine life. Dead Zones are caused when eutrophication takes place. Eutrophication is when there are too many nutrients in the water which causes algae to grow on top of the water, blocking sunlight and absorbing oxygen. These algae are called HABs or, Harmful Algal Blooms.
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Between the years 1990 and 2010, there was a burst of population around the Great Bay. During this period, drainage pipes were put in. The pipes directed fresh, rain water into the salt water bay bringing all of the nutrients from the rain along with it.

What Organisms are Involved? What are the Ecological Impacts?

The eutrophication has effected habitats of marine life. For example, 64 percent of the biomass of eelgrass has declined, which is used by a lot of marine life for either a food source or for protection from predators.

Other, above ground habitats that surround the bay are home to out of water marine life such as birds. With the decline of marsh lands, these birds are loosing their habitats. Among these species being effected by eutrophication, is the rare Bald Eagle.

Also, humans could be effected due to ground wells being close to the Great Bay. And with little to no other options to get drinking water it shows to be quite the predicament.

Main Species effected:

  • Shell fish
  • Eelgrass
  • Salt Marsh
  • Birds
  • Humans
  • And other marine plants and animals

How Can We Fix this Problem?

If we were to change the direction of the rain water flow from the drainage away from the bay, by adapting a more natural version of hydraulics, we could lower the amount of nutrient flow into the water.

Another way to help improve the status of the Great bay is to create man-made marsh lands. These marsh lands could suck up some of the excess nutrients and provide habitats for the marine life.

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How Is Great Bay an Example of Eutrophication?

Eutrophication occurs when there are too many nutrients in the water, causing algae and other plants that thrive on excessive nutrients to grow and block sunlight for the plants below. In 2009, it was declared that Great Bay was an 'officially impaired' area, which means there is an overload of nitrogen in the water. Nitrogen is a nutrient that the invasive species sea lettuce thrives upon. Sea lettuce grows near the surface of the water, blocking out sunlight for plants, like eelgrass, below. Eelgrass is said to be the cornerstone of the Great Bay ecosystem. It holds sediments in place, preventing them from polluting the water. Unfortunately, due to eutrophication, eelgrass populations are declining in Great Bay and have completely disappeared from the Piscataqua River, which feeds into the Estuary.

The nitrogen causing eutrophication comes from a variety of sources. 68% of the nitrogen in Great Bay comes from non-point sources, such as pollution, chemical fertilizers, human waste from septic systems, and domestic animal waste. The remaining 32% comes from waste water treatment plants that dump their waste into the estuary. Waste water treatment facilities account for 390 tons of nitrogen per year; non point sources account for another 835 tons of nitrogen, which totals to 1,225 tons of dissolved nitrogen entering the water source per year. (UNH Magazine, NH Dept. of Environmental Studies, Gulf of Maine Education Association, Conservation Law Foundation)

What are the Economic Impacts?

Many forms of money come from the Great Bay. The community around it values its positive economic impact. It provides many recreational opportunities, such as fishing, boating, and hiking. However, if Great Bay were to become a dead zone, we would lose the ability to do these things. Especially fishing, which is a job source. Humans have, over the years, fished cod, halibut, tuna, haddock, and harvested shellfish. While these fish have already been over-fished, more are being lost to food chain imbalances due to eutrophication, causing major blows to the fishing industry.

Scientists, conservationists, and researchers also gain from Great Bay. They receive grants so that they may conduct research and experiments - which is how they are paid. Conservationists owe their careers to protecting the estuary - they join organizations and groups that pay them to fight for what they believe in. However, if there's nothing to research or protect, grant money and conservation jobs are lost.

Furthermore, in 2014 the EPA stated that all water dumped into Great Bay must be treated for nitrogen. Of course, this is needed and would be a major positive shift for the environmental aspect. The new standard would require a maximum of 3 ml of nitrogen per liter of water. This treatment would require hugely updated sewer systems that would cost double or triple the current sewer fees. (UNH Magazine, NH Dept. of Environmental Studies, Gulf of Maine Education Association)

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What Can Be Done to Reduce, Eliminate, or Manage Excess Nutrients and Solve the Issue?

While the future may look bleak for Great Bay at first, there is in fact quite a lot of hope for this ecosystem. As the EPA suggested, we could reduce nitrogen content in the estuary by putting a cap on how much dissolved nitrogen can be in the water. Another way to help out the bay is to restore oyster populations. Oysters filter feed on algae, which are the blockers of sunlight for plants like eelgrass. Oysters can filter as much as 40 gallons of water a day; they provide a huge natural filtration system, thus ridding the water of both nitrogen and harmful algae. To prevent runoff or human waste from getting into the water, rain gardens can be built along driveways and lawns to catch storm water runoff. Rain gardens are gardens that are built strategically so that they can take advantage of the storm water runoff. Plants in these specialized gardens are adapted to withstand extremes of moisture and the high concentration of nutrients found in runoff.

Of course, no change could happen without conservationists. It is important to build a strong voice for the Great Bay Estuary, so that local people can speak up and advocate for this beautiful, unique place. People must take the responsibility to protect this place, to support the policies and laws that will limit waste dumped into the bay, and to enforce current environmental laws to ensure that Great Bay gets all of the benefits from policies that have already been created. (UNH Magazine, NH Dept. of Environmental Studies)

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Works Cited

NOAA. "Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve." National Estuarine Research Reserve System. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

Kem, Mark. "Great Bay and the Seacoast." National Estuary Program 2005: 1-2. EPA. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

K-12 Education Market, ed. NOAA. Market Analysis. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

Barnum, Jeff. "The Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper." Conservation Law Foundation. CLF, 2016. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

Anderson, David. "Septic Tanks and Nitrogen Pollution in the Great Bay Estuary." Save Great Bay. Lamprey River Advisory Committee, 28 June 2011. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

GMMEA. "Human Presence in the Gulf of Maine." Gulf of Maine Marine Education Association. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

"Great Bay Estuary Overview." Great Bay Estuary | Coastal Program. New Hampshire Department of Enviornmental Services, 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

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