Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth. Their location at the land-sea interface, where growth-stimulating inputs from river runoff mix with ocean tides, contributes to a broad diversity of primary producers and some of the most productive fisheries in the world. But estuaries are also increasingly threatened by a variety of natural phenomena (climate variability, sea level rise) and human actions (nitrogen pollution, freshwater withdrawal, sediment erosion, overfishing).
The Plum Island Ecosystems (PIE) LTER is an integrated research, education, and outreach program. Its goal is to be able to predict the long-term effects of sea level rise, climate change, and human activities on land on the health of estuaries, using PIE as a model for what is happening in estuaries worldwide. We seek to apply the ecological knowledge we gain to help in the management and development of policy that protects the natural resources of this and other estuaries in the U.S coastal zone.
Educating the next generation of citizens and scientists and public outreach are integral components of the PIE LTER. Plum Island estuary is an active training ground for undergraduate and graduate students as well as post-doctoral fellows. They participate in all facets of our research. In connection with Mass Audubon's Salt Marsh Project, we offer K-12 students and their teachers opportunities to better understand the ecology of estuaries, the value of long-term ecological research, and the threats posed by human activities and global change. We also work with numerous non-governmental organizations and local, state, and federal agencies to address issues related to population growth, land use change, sea level rise, climate change, water diversions, and river dams.
Left: Students measure salinity in the Salt Marsh Science Program.
Right: Education Coordinator Liz Duff from Mass Audubon leads students collecting samples at Joppa Flats.