, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 765-792

First online:

Geographic signatures of North American West Coast estuaries

  • Robert EmmettAffiliated withNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries service, Northwest Fisheries Science Center Email author 
  • , Roberto LlansóAffiliated withWashington Department of Ecology
  • , Jan NewtonAffiliated withWashington Department of Ecology
  • , Ron ThomAffiliated withBattelle/Marine Sciences Laboratory, Pacific Northwest Laboratories
  • , Michelle HornbergerAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , Cheryl MorganAffiliated withCooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies, Oregon State University
  • , Colin LevingsAffiliated withCanadian Department of Fisheries Oceans, Pacific Environmental Science Center
  • , Andrea CoppingAffiliated withWashington Sea Grant Program, University of Washington
  • , Paul FishmanAffiliated withFishman Environmental Services

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West Coast estuaries are geologically young and composed of a variety of geomorphological types. These estuaries range from large fjords to shallow lagoons; from large to low freshwater flows. Natural hazards include E1 Niños, strong Pacific storms, and active tectonic activity. West Coast estuaries support a wide range of living resources: five salmon species, harvestable shellfish, waterfowl and marine birds, marine mammals, and a variety of algae and plants. Although populations of many of these living resources have declined (salmonids), others have increased (marine mammals). West Coast estuaries are also centers of commerce and increasingly large shipping traffic. The West Coast human population is rising faster than most other areas of the U.S. and Canada, and is distributed heavily in southern California, the San Francisco Bay area, around Puget Sound, and the Fraser River estuary. While water pollution is a problem in many of the urbanized estuaries, most estuaries do not suffer from poor water quality. Primary estuarine problems include habitat alterations, degradation, and loss; diverted freshwater flows; marine sediment contamination; and exotic species introductions. The growing West Coast economy and population are in part related to the quality of life, which is dependent on the use and enjoyment of abundant coastal natural resources.