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UC Davis, Santa Barbara get $6 million to help estuaries

University of California researchers at the Davis and Santa Barbara campuses will receive $6 million in federal funds to develop much-needed health assessments for estuaries, the critical coastal ecosystems where fresh water meets salt water.

The grants, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will support the development of chemical, biological and physical standards for estuaries, particularly for estuarine wetlands.

Those standards will function rather like the measures of blood pressure, heart function and blood chemistry that are used to assess human health, said Susan Anderson, the project director and an associate research biologist at UC Davis' Bodega Marine Laboratory.

"We need to be able to assess the situation before the patient gets sick. Or if the patient is already sick, to assess how sick. Is it the ecological version of measles, cancer or just the common cold?" said Roger Nisbet, the project's associate director at UC Santa Barbara and a professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology.

Estuaries are vital components of the planet's ecosystem. They serve as nursery grounds for two-thirds of the fish and shellfish consumed by Americans; provide essential food and habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife; improve water quality by filtering pollutants; act as buffers to protect shorelines from erosion and flooding; and are the sites of ports and marinas.

But estuaries are in serious trouble. In California, the problems include the loss of more than 90 percent of wetlands; invasive species that threaten natives and their habitats; and toxic runoff from industry, farms and neighborhoods.

"Public agencies like EPA and research centers like University of California need to assess how our estuaries are doing," Anderson said. "But the health indicators we have now are not sophisticated enough. For instance, when pollution occurs or an e
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Contact: Susan Anderson
susanderson@ucdavis.edu
707-875-2048
University of California - Davis
3-Apr-2001


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