The University of Michigan Water Center is forming a five-year partnership with a federal agency to oversee scientific research dealing with ecologically sensitive coastal areas, officials said Monday.
Under a $20 million contract, the center will team with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to coordinate a program that studies how land use, pollution, habitat degradation and climate change affect estuaries — areas where rivers flow into oceans or large lakes such as the Great Lakes.
Estuaries are highly productive natural habitats, hosting an abundant variety of plant and animal life. They provide spawning and nursery areas for small fish, shellfish, migrating birds and coastal shore animals. They also filter pollutants, buffer coastal areas from storms and prevent soil erosion.
“We intend to enhance the already strong estuary research program so that it yields science that helps decision makers restore, protect and improve some of this country’s most vital and beloved coastal ecosystems,” said Don Scavia, director of U-M’s Graham Sustainability Institute and principal investigator for the new cooperative agreement.
More than 1.3 million acres are protected in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, where on-site staff members, visiting scientists and graduate students study coastal ecosystems.
The University of Michigan and NOAA will jointly manage the system’s Science Collaborative, which awards about $4 million annually to support research.
Nine of the university’s faculty researchers, staff members and students will guide the NERRS Science Collaborative, joining partners from institutions on the east and west coasts.
The 28-site reserve network includes estuaries such as Chesapeake, Delaware, Narragansett and San Francisco bays, as well as the Hudson River, Old Woman Creek in Ohio and Apalachicola, Fla.
“Few coastal resource management issues are purely environmental in nature,” said Dwight Trueblood, the NERRS Science Collaborative program manager for NOAA. “They impact everything from local economies, where we live and play, and the quality of the food we eat from our nation’s coastal waters.”
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