The region's estuarine ecosystems provide vital habitat for a diverse range of species. Primary producers found here include phytoplankton, benthic diatoms, saltmarsh plants, brown, red and green algae, and eelgrass. Phytoplankton support a broad spectrum of planktonic consumers including bivalves, crustaceans, and fish larvae, as well as large populations of filter feeding invertebrates. The estuaries sustain runs of anadromous sturgeon, shad, alewives, lampreys, smelt and salmon that spawn in the freshwater portions of the rivers and streams. Freshwater areas of the rivers and streams in Hampton-Seabrook Harbor are directly accessible by anadromous fish, and in some of the major rivers in the Great Bay estuary, which were dammed in the 1800s for hydropower, fish ladders have been built and maintained to allow for spawning.
The estuaries also serve as nursery areas for commercially important species such as lobster, winter flounder, cod, pollock, eels and hake. Both juvenile and adult striped bass can be found foraging on baitfish such as silversides and smelt. Shellfish have been abundant historically, but populations are now in a state of decline. In Great Bay, oyster bed densities have declined dramatically, while soft shell clam densities are lower than average in Hampton-Seabrook Harbor. As many as 110 bird species have been identified in the
state's estuaries, including several endangered and threatened bird species such as bald eagles, common terns, upland sand pipers, marsh hawks, ospreys and common loons. Mammals common to New Hampshire's estuaries include
otter, mink, and beaver. Muskrats nest and over-winter in many areas of the bays and rivers. Harbor seals and river porpoises are occasionally observed in fall, winter and spring.
In 2000 the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership produced A Technical Characterization of Estuarine and Coastal New Hampshire, which summarizes the available information and data pertaining to the health of the state's estuaries. The document may be viewed in its entirety or chapter by chapter by clicking on the links below.
A Technical Characterization of Estuarine and Coastal New Hampshire Entire Document (.pdf/8.1MB)
Chapter 1: Introduces the geographical, physical, biological, and anthropogenic aspects of the estuaries. (.pdf/1.2MB)
Chapter 2: Reviews present and historical water quality status and trends. (.pdf/4.2MB)
Chapter 3: Inventories living resources are inventoried (.pdf/1.4MB)
Chapter 4: Discusses human uses and resource management issues are discussed. (.pdf/843KB)
Chapter 5: Summarizes the report's findings. (.pdf/114KB)
Chapter 6: Provides a bibliography. (.pdf/118KB)
The document concludes with eleven appendices that have been cited within the primary text. (.pdf/214KB)
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