Although the oceans cover 71% of Earth, it is the 7% that comprises the coastal ocean that most influences, and is most influenced by, human activity. The importance of this narrow strip of ocean—from the outer edge of the continental shelf to the farthest penetration of salt water up river—is increasing as more people live near the shore and draw resources from the water. Coastal waters are important for reasons that include weather, national defense, shipping, fishing, human health, shoreline hazards, and mineral extraction. We affect the coastal ocean through our fishing practices, industrial pollution, habitat modifications, and agricultural runoff. And these environments affect us through fluctuating food supplies, water quality, harmful algal blooms, and the accumulation of wastewater. The coastal ocean is the most biologically productive part of the ocean. Nutrients from the deep and from the land well up into surface waters where there is sufficient light for plants to grow. Some mechanisms for this delivery are broadly understood but in general, we know very little about why our coasts are so productive. The Coastal Ocean Institute and Rinehart Coastal Research Center responds to these scientific and societal phenomena by supporting innovative experiments and field expeditions, and by communicating the scientific results to the public.

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