In 1987, Congress established the National Estuary Program (NEP). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the NEP, identifies Estuaries of National Significance and supports the development of comprehensive management plans to assure that estuaries maintain their ecological integrity. NEPs are place-based, non-regulatory, programs focused on restoring and protecting estuaries and local watersheds. For more information regarding NEPs, visit the EPA website.


What’s unique about the National Estuary Program? NEPs function under a unique governance structure called a Management Conference that gives local partners a voice in the decision-making process. NEPs involve and coordinate among stakeholders at all levels: federal, state, county, city, and citizen to ensure that local issues are managed by bringing all stakeholders to the table to work out solutions that are consensus-driven and based on sound science. Learn more about the IRLNEP Management Conference below.


Currently, 28 estuaries located along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico are designated as estuaries of national significance. Each NEP focuses within a study area that includes the estuary and surrounding watershed. The 28 NEPs develop and implement Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans (CCMPs), which are long-term plans that contain actions to address water quality and living resource challenges and priorities. The NEP challenges and priorities are defined by local, city, state, federal, private and non-profit stakeholders.

Map of estuaries of national significance in the US


Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program

Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program

Barnegat Bay Partnership

Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program

Casco Bay Estuary Partnership

Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Program

Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program

Delaware Center for the Inland Bays

Galveston Bay Estuary Program

Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program

Long Island Sound Study

Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership

Maryland Coastal Bays Program

Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program

Mobile Bay National Estuary Program

Morro Bay National Estuary Program

Narragansett Bay Estuary Program

New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program

Partnership for the Delaware Estuary

Peconic Estuary Program

Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership

Puget Sound Partnership

San Francisco Estuary Partnership

San Juan Bay Estuary Partnership

Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program

Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Tillamook Estuaries Partnership