Home > Explore Projects > Estuarine Species Database for the NOAA Estuarine Living Marine Resources Program
NCCOS Project

Estuarine Species Database for the NOAA Estuarine Living Marine Resources Program

This project began in January 1985 and was completed in December 2000

We developed a database on the distribution, relative abundance, and life history characteristics of 153 species in 122 estuaries in support of the Estuarine Living Marine Resources (ELMR) program. The ELMR was established to designate essential fish habitats (EFHs) mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, support fisheries management, and develop environmental sensitivity index maps for oil spill response planning.

Why We Care
Estuaries are among the world’s most biologically productive natural ecosystems, buffering nutrient-rich, inland waters from the turbulent open ocean. They are the breeding ground and nurseries of our freshwater and saltwater fish and shellfish, migrating birds, and coastal shore animals, providing them food, habitat to develop, and protection from predation. In the U.S., 80 percent of the fish and shellfish we eat spend part of their lives in an estuary.

The land adjacent to most estuaries is among the most densely populated in the world, and human impacts from pollution, overfishing, and nutrient runoff have degraded estuary health. To protect these essential systems, we need information about the distribution, abundance, and life history characteristics of the species living there.

What We Did
We developed the Estuarine Living Marine Resources (ELMR) program database to integrate information on estuarine species and their associated habitats from a variety of sources into an accessible format. We collected existing information on species distribution and abundance and created a fact sheet for each species in each estuary. To access the ELMR database, see the website linked below.

The data compiled for each species or life stage included:

  • Presence in tidal fresh, seawater, and mixing zones of estuaries
  • Monthly distribution in those zones
  • Relative abundance in those zones (ranging from not present to highly abundant).

We considered five life stages: adults, juveniles, larvae, spawning, and eggs, with some exceptions based on the unique life histories of some species. We divided the database into five study regions—West Coast, Gulf of Mexico, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and North Atlantic—and published data summary reports for each. We published regional life history summary reports for the West and Gulf of Mexico.

We also developed environmental sensitivity index maps that display which resources, such as birds, shellfish beds, marshes, tidal wetlands, beaches, and parks, are threatened in the case of an oil spill.

The ELMR program provides the underlying scientific information necessary for developing management plans for estuaries.

Next Steps
The database continues to be updated, revised, improved, and applied to specific problems in natural resource management.

Additional Resources

Click to expand resource list(s).

Products, Datasets & Reports




  • Nelson, D.M., and M.E. Monaco. 2000. National overview and evolution of NOAA's Estuarine Living Marine Resources (ELMR) Program. NOAA Tech. Memo. NOS NCCOS CCMA-144. 60 p. Contact David.Moe.Nelson@noaa.gov for a hard copy of the report.

Related Links

Explore Similar Projects
No posts found.


NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our quarterly newsletter or view our archives.

Follow us on Social

Listen to our Podcast

Check our our new podcast "Coastal Conversations"