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Volume 27
Number 1
Spring 2010
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Egret in Wetland at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, Florida. Case Study
Water quality in southeastern coastal national parks
Is “fair” good enough?
By Eva M. DiDonato, Virginia D. Engle, and Lisa M. Smith
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
A partnership with USEPA
Information for park managers
About the authors
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With development of the 2006 Ocean Park Stewardship Action Plan and formation of the Ocean and Coastal Resources Branch in the Natural Resource Program Center, the National Park Service is focusing more effort on issues beyond park shorelines. Estuaries are one of the habitats of concern to resource managers in coastal parks (fig. 1). These areas are nursery grounds for many species of recreational and commercial importance and they contribute significantly to visitor experience (e.g., boating, fishing, wildlife viewing) at coastal parks. Compromised estuarine water quality often results from regional population growth and local development. Most stressors of coastal water quality originate from beyond park boundaries, so understanding the regional perspective is critical to successful management of park coastal waters.

Working with partners, the Ocean and Coastal Resources Branch has completed 30 Watershed Condition Assessments for ocean and Great Lakes parks and several more are under way ( These reports provide an overview of coastal resource issues and identify potential sources of impairment for park coastal habitats and processes. In southeastern coastal parks, for example, water quality concerns include high nutrient loading, low dissolved oxygen, and excessive fecal bacteria, while sediment quality concerns include metals contamination (e.g., iron, copper, nickel, lead, mercury) and toxic compounds derived from industry, Superfund sites, and other sources. These issues can impact human and ecosystem health, resulting in beach swimming and fishery closures, seafood consumption advisories, alteration of seagrass habitat, algal blooms, and other habitat consequences.

This article presents an approach to understanding water quality in national parks by using data collected within and beyond park boundaries. Combining park and regional water quality data with national assessment criteria gives park managers a broader perspective on water quality issues in their parks and can help them identify potential management actions. The successful partnership with USEPA described in this article for southeastern coastal parks can serve as an example for future NPS efforts.

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This page updated:  13 May 2010

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