Nutrient Pollution Impacts Coastal Residents and Economies

Nutrient pollution diminishes the availability,  commercial benefits, and recreational enjoyment of coastal resources.

Symptoms of nutrient pollution (hypoxia induced fish kills, seaweed overgrowth, algal blooms, seagrass die off) are unpleasant and can have very detrimental impacts on human uses of coastal resources.  In fact, there is concensus among experts that everyday coastal activities such as commercial and recreational fishing, shellfish harvesting, swimming and beach use, and tourism have been negatively impacted in a great many estuaries and coastal bays around the Nation (Bricker 2007).

Although there is consensus that impacts occur, it is very difficult to economically quantify these impacts. That complicates policy formulation and implementation for this issue, especially since the cost of curbing nutrient inputs is steep, and many of the human activities (such as food production) that generate the pollution also produce positive benefits for society. The following table illustrates some examples of the economic damages that nutrient pollution has caused.

Where Nutrient pollution symptom Resources and uses affected Impact
Barnegat Bay Estuary, New Jersey Hypoxia Summer Flounder catch $25 million per year to recreational fisheries (Lipton, 2007)
Maui Coast, Kihei, Hawaii Seaweed (macroaglae) overgrowth Recreational use of beaches and coral reefs $20 million per year in lowered real estate values and lost recreational spending (Beukering, 2004)
Nation-wide Harmful algal blooms (HAB’s)

Note: While nutrients are known to be a contributing factor to some HAB’s, not all HAB’s are caused by nutrient pollution; the percentage of the HAB impact due to nutrients has not been determined.
Commercial and recreational fisheries, recreational use of beaches $38 million per year to commercial fisheries

$4 million per year to recreational tourism

$37 million per year for public health costs of illness

$3 million per year for related coastal monitoring and management activities

(NOAA, 2010b)

Kayaking in Chesapeake Eutrophication could impact recreation for tourists and coastal residents. Credit: Tonya Kane

For more information:

NOS Diving Deeper: Eutrophication

NOS Diving Deeper: Dead Zone

Closer Look

Relevant Links

NOAA's National Estuarine Eutrophication Assessment

NOAA NCCOS Hypoxia and Nutrient Pollution Page

Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force