Since 1988, National Estuaries Week has been recognizing one of the earth’s most important resources. This yearly celebration typically occurs during the third week of September, bringing attention to the 29 sites within the National Estuarine Research Reserve System — which collectively protect over 1.3 million acres of land and water.
The country’s research reserves are about more than simply enjoying or experiencing; they’re about doing. These places — and their staff, volunteers, and visitors — conserve, study, educate, clean, restore, and unite.
And so, in the spirit of the reserve system’s accomplishments, this year’s National Estuaries Week encourages others to do the same. Head out to your favorite reserve, get actively involved, and post a photo on social media with #IDidThis. In the meantime, for inspiration, here are a few examples of the actions the reserves, and the people who love them, have taken to make a difference.
In 2018, on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, a community clean-up event led by the Weeks Bay Foundation — the non-profit “friends” group that supports the Weeks Bay Research Reserve — resulted in 2,000 pounds of plastic trash getting new life as commercial packaging. In 2019, that reserve launched a “Derelict is Dangerous” campaign during which staff and volunteers helped identify large debris and multiple derelict vessels while boaters simultaneously learned about the harm these abandoned boats cause.
Over at Hawaii’s He’eia Reserve, a 400-acre restoration project that also integrates climate adaptation, people are delivering tangible results in the form of improved water quality, food production, and flood mitigation to the community (whose residents volunteered to help make it all happen).
In most years during September, 250 fourth graders celebrate National Estuaries Week by heading to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Research Reserve to learn about the marsh habitats within their 6,000-acre classroom and living laboratory. Since the program’s inception, over 3,000 students have enjoyed hands-on estuary and environmental stewardship education.
A new initiative, Shoring Up Resiliency through Education, is now expanding the reserve’s educational reach and, with the help of state and county partners, plans on bringing more than 600 fifth, seventh, and ninth graders each year to learn about resilience strategies and the importance of natural resources. The reserve's educational efforts is helping to create an entire community of informed environmental students.
On an individual basis, the reserves each do a lot for community members; they offer pristine, peaceful places of respite and recreation. But they also do so much collective good for communities, in so many ways.
In the months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Jobos Bay Reserve set up monthly workshops led by mental health experts to help survivors talk through their trauma.
In an effort to make coastal science more inclusive of deaf and hard-of-hearing people, staff from three New England reserves—Wells, Waquoit Bay, and Narragansett Bay—teamed up with American Sign Language educators to develop signs and instructional videos for ecological words, including one for “estuary.” And in California, the San Francisco Bay Reserve offers therapeutic horseback riding for special needs children, the elderly, and veterans, while Elkhorn Slough has created an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant trail to ensure visitors of all physical abilities can not only enjoy experiencing the reserve, but actively participate in the doing.
The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 29 estuarine areas — places where freshwater from the land mixes with saltwater from the sea — established across the nation for long-term research, education, and coastal stewardship. The reserves are a partnership between NOAA and the coastal states and territories. NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management is responsible for administering the reserve system. Each reserve is managed on a day-to-day basis by a lead state agency or university, with input from local partners. The mission of the reserves is to practice and promote coastal and estuarine stewardship through innovative research and education, using a system of protected areas.