The widest estuary in the world is the Rio de la Plata, which lies between Buenos Aires and Colonia, Uruguay. An estuary is a place where salt water and fresh water mix in a highly sensitive environment. The Rio de la Plata grows from 30 miles wide where two rivers meet to 137 miles wide to the southeast where it opens on the Atlantic Ocean. The largest estuary in North America is the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Chesapeake Bay is the world’s 3rd largest estuary, taking up 64,000 square miles and 11,600 miles of tidal shoreline.
Another estuary which has been called the world’s largest is the St. Lawrence Estuary where the St. Lawrence River meets the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. It is 500 miles long and over 3 million gallons of water are dumped into the Gulf of St. Lawrence each second from it. This estuary supports fish, birds, and beluga whales.
The largest estuary in the United States is Chesapeake Bay near Washington, D.C. It is part of a 64,000 square mile watershed, and contains a mix of salt water from the nearby Atlantic Ocean and water from the watershed. Over 50 major rivers spill into the Chesapeake, including the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and the James. Chesapeake Bay is a crucially important ecosystem for many different species, especially because of the variety of habitats that occur in it. Migratory birds depend on the wetlands and marshes there for food and protection on their journeys, many different species of fish spawn in the rivers and streams that flow into the bay, and shore dwelling mammals and amphibians depend on the wealth of water and food provided by the Bay. In addition to providing habitat, the estuary is extremely important in terms of damage control in large storms—it acts like a sponge, absorbing rain and floodwater from large storms and protecting the inland environment from destruction.
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