Informed citizens

Coastal areas are in a time of great change. Populations are growing, development and economic activities are expanding, and sea levels are rising as the climate shifts. As a result, the management of coastal natural resources and ecosystems is becoming more complex, even as the need for solutions to problems becomes more urgent. The decisions we make—and the actions we take—today will shape the future of our coasts, and their ability to support us, for generations. Involving natural resources and places that matter to all of us, these decisions are everyone’s business. Reserves work to engage all citizens—from “K to Gray”—in exploring, understanding, and supporting coastal environments through citizen outreach, volunteer initiatives, professional training, and educational programs.

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Why it matters

All of us are impacted by the changes occurring in coastal areas, and by the decisions made by policymakers, resource managers, and communities. As these decisions become increasingly complex and politicized, it can be difficult to identify the best way forward. To protect these environments and the services they provide that matter most to us, we not only need relevant, science-based information, we also need to feel our connection to the coast so we can see firsthand how we are both part of the problem and the solution. Finding this connection is becoming more challenging as natural areas shrink and degrade, technology distracts, the pace of life quickens, and our access to outdoor experiences becomes limited. In this time of accelerating change and increasing disconnection from the natural world, we all benefit from opportunities to enjoy time in coastal and estuarine environments, to learn about how these places function, discover how they support us, and get involved in managing and protecting them for the future.

How we help

Reserves provide opportunities and resources for everyone to enjoy coastal and estuarine environments, understand how they work, and get involved in protecting these special places for the future.

  • Inspiring and informing the next generation: Reserves host activities and events through which students and teachers can visit their local estuaries and participate in scientific research. Through reserve-based programs, students receive hands-on learning in how coastal ecosystems function, participate in environmental monitoring projects, and become familiar with the plants and wildlife that call estuaries “home.” More than 80,000 students benefit from reserve-based education programs each year. Reserves also develop K through 12 curricula focused on coastal and estuarine environments that teachers nationwide can use in their classes. Explore: Teachers on the estuary = climate science in the classroom
  • Building community capacity to make decisions: Each reserve manages a coastal training program that provides locally relevant resources to inform coastal resource management professionals about new techniques, data, and trends in their fields. Each year, more than 60,000 coastal professionals benefit from reserve-based trainings and workshops, offsetting millions of dollars in training costs nationwide. Through collaborative research projects, reserves also conduct stakeholder-driven research designed to target and fill local obstacles and information gaps. Reserves also provide lecture series and other educational programs to local residents, where they can learn about a variety of topics related to protecting coasts and estuaries. Explore: Balancing freshwater needs in Texas
  • Engaging everyone in solutions: Engaging volunteers from local communities enables reserves to leverage existing resources to enhance the impact of their research and restoration work. Community members actively help protect their local estuaries by participating in reserve-based restoration projects, monitoring efforts, and scientific research. From counting American eels and analyzing water samples to pulling invasive plants and constructing oyster reefs, citizen scientists contribute to the preservation of the vital benefits that estuaries provide. Explore: Volunteer-based oyster restoration in South Carolina 
  • Creating memorable experiences: Visitor centers at each reserve welcome everyone to discover the sights, smells, and sounds of coastal and estuarine ecosystems. At many reserves you can hike, kayak, canoe, go fishing, and observe wildlife, on your own or through guided events. Reserves are places for everyone to enjoy being outdoors, getting fresh air and exercise, and creating memories with family and friends.

What you can do

Interested in learning about your local estuary or getting involved in research and conservation projects? Here’s where you can start…

  • Visit: Bring family and friends to your local reserve to explore trails, kayak or canoe, and observe wildlife.
  • Learn more: Find out the key issues and challenges your community is facing and what resources are available to help tackle them. Your local reserve is a great first stop to learn more about the issues and solutions.
  • Get involved: Participate in a reserve-based citizen-science project, educational event, or another volunteer opportunity.
  • Give: Consider a contribution to your local reserve to support education, volunteering, and training opportunities.