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National Estuarine Research Reserve System

29 August 2011, 11:21 am


National Estuarine Research Reserve System

  • What is an Estuarine Reserve? The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 28 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. NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management is responsible for administrating 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.

  • National Network. The reserve system was established by Section 315 of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 to be a network of estuaries that represent different biogeographical regions of the United States. Currently, reserves are located in 20 of the 35 U.S. coastal states. The sites within the reserve system protect more than 1.3 million acres of coastal land and waters from Alaska to Puerto Rico. Reserves range in size from 365,000-acre Kachemak Bay, Alaska, to 571-acre Old Woman Creek in Erie County, Ohio.

  • Partnerships/Extensions. There are several programs and partnerships that provide the national framework for training, education, research, and monitoring carried out at the reserves. For example, the System-wide Monitoring Program collects data on the health of the nation’s estuaries to understand how human activities and natural events can change ecosystems. Also, the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology, a partnership between NOAA and the University of New Hampshire, supports many academic researchers throughout the reserve system with other experts in the field to develop and apply new environmental technologies.
  • Hands-on Research. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System Graduate Research Fellowship Program is one of the largest graduate programs supported by NOAA. Fellows conduct their research within a reserve and gain hands-on experience by engaging with reserve staff and participating in their host reserve's research, education, stewardship, and training programs. Fellows use reserves as living laboratories to address natural and social science priority issues based on the local coastal management needs. One of NOAA's goals is to provide the science that coastal managers and decision makers need. The fellowship program is one way that the reserve system fulfills managers' needs for relevant information.

  • Education. 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. Reserves provide adult audiences with training on estuarine issues of concern in their local communities; offer classes for K-12 students; support teachers through professional development programs in coastal and estuary education; and provide public education events. One education program at the Padilla Bay Research Reserve, the Planet Stewards Program, trains the local community on climate change and in turn, citizens volunteer to reduce their carbon footprint at home, work, or in the community.

  • Living Laboratories. The reserves are a network of living laboratories and classrooms where scientists, students, and the public can explore biological, physical, and social issues of coastal communities and habitats. The reserve system is coordinating its diverse resources to help coastal managers, residents, and the nation understand complex coastal issues such as climate change and collaborate to find effective ways to protect coastal habitats and communities. Reserves will be on the front lines of impacts from climate change including land loss associated with rising sea levels and habitat changes from differing water temperatures, salinity, and storm energy.

  • Benefits of Estuaries. Estuaries are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world and are home to many different plants and animals. The reserves are designed to protect these areas and the species that inhabit them. For example, Hope Island, part of the Narragansett Bay Reserve, is a major rookery for colonial nesting wading birds. Estuaries are also crucial spawning areas for many commercial and recreational fish and shellfish, and buffer upland areas from flooding and shoreline erosion. At the Sapelo Island Reserve, staff developed a sediment retention structure, for their Living Shorelines Project, that is environmentally friendly because it provides critical oyster reef habitat. Estuaries are important parts of our lives -- connected to our economy and culture. Estuaries support the U.S. economy in the form of seafood sales, jobs, and recreational activities such as fishing and boating. Estuaries offer cultural importance to Americans because they are often city and trade centers, are an important source of food, and have a long history of use by Native Americans.

Original article: National Estuarine Research Reserve System