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.
Reserve staff work with local communities and regional groups to address natural resource management issues, such as stormwater runoff and habitat restoration. Through integrated research and training, the reserves help communities develop strategies to deal successfully with these coastal resource issues.
In an effort to understand and track long-term changes in estuaries and coastal areas, the estuarine reserves established the System Wide Monitoring program (SWMP) in 1995. SWMP collects a variety of data, including water quality, weather conditions, and habitat changes.
Estuarine reserves serve as "living classrooms" for educators, students, and the public. The reserves take a local approach in advancing estuary literacy and generating meaningful experiences for all kinds of people interested in learning about, protecting, and restoring estuaries.