Pavement Helps Pollution Find Tidal Creeks

The level of building development, including roadways, sidewalks and roofs, in a watershed impacts the health of U.S. tidal creeks and may threaten public health in those coastal areas, according to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"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, director of NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science's Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, S.C., and lead author of the study.

Nonpoint source pollutants found in these creeks include chemicals, such as flame retardants, that could affect human health through the food chain. Headwater portions of tidal creeks are the first marine ecosystems to respond to land-based pollution.

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

NOAA researchers determined the effects of nonpoint runoff 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.

For more information, contact the Hollings Marine Laboratory at

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