This somewhat dramatic name sounds a bit like the title of a 1950s science fiction movie. The title in full, Clash of the Populations – Emerging Challenges for Coastal Lagoons, is actually the name of a conference taking place in Ocean City this week. The subject of looming problems with lagoons may not sound as dramatic as a sci-fi thriller, but lagoon health is a serious issue.
Managing these vulnerable waterways will be the main focus for members of the Atlantic Estuarine Research Society (AERS), comprised of students, scientists, managers and educators from Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, DC. The group this week will take an in-depth look at the problems facing coastal lagoons with a goal to form science-based solutions.
The Clash o f the Populations conference is hosted by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. The waters behind Assateague and Ocean City are coastal lagoons, which have their own set of circumstances that make them especially vulnerable to human impact, says Dr. Roman Jesien, staff scientist with the MCBP. Coastal lagoons typically have small watersheds, with small rivers and creeks, with the chief freshwater input coming through rain and groundwater. Flushing is low, so as a result, what goes into the bays stays in the bays.
Since there are tremendous pressures from living and playing in the watershed, conflicts can arise between humans and animal and plant populations that inhabit these lagoons. These are highly productive areas that contribute to the overall productivity of coastal waters by supporting a variety of habitats, including salt marshes and seagrasses. They also provide essential habitat for many fish and shellfish species. Lagoons can be found throughout the world and represent nearly 13 percent of the shoreline. On the Atlantic coast, salt marshes are one of the most prevalent habitats in lagoons and are one of the most productive natural plant communities in the world, so managing them well is vital.
The AERS conference includes a trip to the north end of Assateague Island National Seashore as well as visit to two habitat restoration projects in the Isle of Wight Management Area. The first Isle of Wight location is an area of shoreline that at one time housed deteriorating bulkhead but has been replaced with 10 acres of tidal marsh and is now a county park, while the second is a site with ongoing marsh restoration.
The Maryland Coastal Bays Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee was established to provide advice and guidance to research, data management, and sampling and monitoring efforts that affect the scientific adequacy of program activities. The committee is also responsible for suggesting specific scientific activities that will help meet program objectives, as well as conduct peer review of studies and reports on the status and trends in the estuary.
AERS was formed to discuss problems and explore solutions on issues pertaining to estuarine and coastal environments and policies with the common goal of encouraging environmental interest and public awareness. The group is one of seven affiliated societies centered along the East, Gulf and West coasts of North America. The seven societies, independently operated, collaborate with the national Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation to sponsor biennial conferences on topics of national and international interest and to produce a highly regarded quarterly journal, Estuaries and Coasts.