Group launches plan for Great Bay Estuary

The continued degradation of the Great Bay estuary has prompted the creation of a new 10-year plan aimed at serving as a blueprint for preserving a marine habitat closely tied to the health of the entire Seacoast region.Lawmakers, scientists and advocates supporting the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership, or PREP, gathered at Great Island Commons last month to officially launch an aggressive conservation plan that calls on all residents and municipalities to take action.The 2010 Piscataqua Region Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan was officially signed during a ceremony that supporters hope signifies the beginning of a new era for a troubled estuary system.PREP – a federally funded conservation partnership – has been working for years to draft and implement initiatives aimed at cleaning up Great Bay, with the past 18 months having been used to draft a plan focused on addressing the latest pressing problems.According to PREP coastal scientist Phil Trowbridge, among the major concerns is how increased development and nitrogen pollution is impacting a Great Bay Estuary that has been shown to be in peril.Trowbridge – a state Department of Environmental Services employee – said nonpoint pollution sources such as septic systems and fertilizers have introduced increasing amounts of nitrogen into the bay, resulting in a threatening decline in eelgrass coverage on the bottom of the water body.He said studies show that a 37 percent decrease in eelgrass cover in Great Bay between 1990 and 2008 is threatening fish species and creating an environment where sediments can lift off the floor of the bay, thus compromising water clarity.‘At a juncture’A 2009 estuaries report showed bacteria concentrations, toxic contaminants in shellfish, nitrogen levels, dissolved oxygen levels, shellfish populations, fish populations, and habitat restoration are all trending in a negative direction.”In general, the estuary is in decline. We are at a juncture where we need to turn it around if we want these habitats to exist,” Trowbridge said.PREP’s plan will bring individuals, state agencies, volunteers and municipalities from New Hampshire and Maine together to stem the tide of Great Bay’s demise.The strategy will look to initiate 86 different “action plans,” which range from working with municipalities to eliminate the illegal discharges of sewers into surface waters to supporting continued monitoring of shellfish tissue samples to advocating for the removal of non-essential dams.Officials said the plan directly affects 52 New Hampshire and Maine towns on the estuary and will draw on 200 organizations in solving the problems.PREP Director Rachel Rouillard said the plan is about bringing together Seacoast residents of all walks of life so they might take part to address problems that were identified by “sound science.”More information about the plan can be found at – FOSTER’S DAILY DEMOCRAT