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This study focuses on the Saco estuary, the tidal portion of the Saco River, which drains the largest watershed in southern Maine. With headwaters in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the watershed encompasses more than 4,400 km2, and provides clean healthy drinking water to over 100,000 people living and working in communities in southern Maine.

When the study began in 2009, very little was known about the ecology of the Saco estuary. Researchers at the University of New England and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve employed the process of collaborative learning to bring together people who care about the estuary in order to identify their concerns. A Stewardship Network composed of people employed by municipal, state and federal governments, water supply organizations and businesses, volunteers from municipal boards making land use decisions, land trusts, property owners and representatives from other organizations that are uniquely focused on the region was formed. The Stewardship Network helped to define the project goals and objectives, and provided input and guidance over the five-year project.

This report explains what the researchers discovered about the ecology of the estuary, along with what they learned about its social and economic components. This baseline assessment contributes to the long-term goal of restoring and sustaining the structure and function of the estuary, and supports the efforts of government, businesses and local organizations that value the estuary and depend upon the natural services it provides.


Table of contents:

  1. Introduction: Why Is the Saco Estuary an Ideal Living Laboratory for Sustainability Science?
    Christine B. Feurt and Pamela A. Morgan
  2. Recognizing and Engaging the Stewardship Network: Actively Working to Sustain the Saco Estuary
    Christine B. Feurt
  3. Plants of the Saco Estuary: Tidal Marshes
    Pamela A. Morgan
  4. Benthic Macroinvertebrates of the Saco Estuary: Tidal Flats and Low Marsh Habitats
    Anna L. Bass
  5. Fish of the Saco Estuary: River Channel and Tidal Marshes
    Kayla Smith, Kristin Wilson, James Sulikowski, and Jacob Aman
  6. Bird Community of the Saco Estuary: Tidal Marshes
    Noah G. Perlut
  7. Food Web of the Saco Estuary’s Tidal Marshes
    Carrie J. Byron
  8. Land Use and Land Cover Along the Saco Estuary’s Shoreline
    Mark D. O. Adams
  9. Sea Level Rise and the Saco Estuary: Tidal Marshes
    Michael O. Esty
  10. Water Quality in the Saco River
    Stephan I. Zeeman and Tyler Spillane

Authors Kayla Smith and Tyler Spillane conducted this research as University of New England students.

This research is part of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center, which is supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

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