Reserves Benefit Local Economies

Reserves Benefit Local Economies

Through a partnership with Rising Tide Explorers, the Rookery Bay Reserve attracts more than 13,000 visitors who generate more than $1 million in revenues annually. Photo courtesy Rookery Bay Reserve.

National Estuarine Research Reserves are a positive influence on local economies, according to a 2020 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management (NOAA OCM) and the Eastern Research Group, with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The team calculated the economic contributions of Reserves in Florida, Oregon, and New Hampshire in 2019 and 2020. They found that each Reserve makes positive economic contributions to local communities by supporting jobs and increasing local revenues.

Economic contribution is the economic activity that happens in a community as a result of spending related to a program or project,” explains Pete Wiley, NOAA economist and study co-author. “This study showed the spending that happens as a Reserve carries out its work has a ripple effect that touches many people and businesses. What makes a Reserve’s economic contribution particularly powerful is that it’s paired with activities that people love to do and places that they care about for many reasons.”

The study found that Reserves directly and indirectly support jobs in many industries— including tourism, construction, restaurant, real estate, fishing, retail—in the counties where they are located. For example, spending by visitors to Florida’s Rookery Bay Reserve supports approximately 104 jobs, not only in those businesses where visitors actually spend money, but also in others. The restaurant where a family buys lunch might depend on the local farmers cooperative for produce and engage employees who like to visit a nearby bowling alley after work. 

Through programs and partnerships, the study also showed that Reserves contribute to revenues that sustain the resilience of businesses and communities. For example, through investments in staff salaries, facilities maintenance, operations, and partnerships, Florida’s three Reserves increased local revenues by $45 million on average in 2019 and 2020.

Investments in Oregon’s South Slough Reserve staff salaries, facilities maintenance, operations, and partnerships enhanced local revenues by $5.3M in 2019. Photo courtesy, South Slough Reserve.

“Reserves make a significant contribution to their local economies, and these, coupled with the substantial benefits realized through their positive influence on the environment, result in an enormous value to their states and to the country,” says Wiley.

“This study verifies what we have always known—having a Reserve in your community makes significant contributions to the local economy,” says Rebecca Roth, executive director of the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association.

“Even beyond the studies that show the work that Reserves do to protect and manage their piece of the coast can make economic contributions, we know these places  provide many valuable benefits to natural resource-dependent industries, as well as communities and the public.”

For example, New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve partners to protect and restore the salt marshes, eelgrass meadows, and oyster beds that help make the waters of the Bay fishable, swimmable, and drinkable. Restoring these habitats could save up to $24 million in annual wastewater treatment costs and increase commercial fishermen revenues by $1.9 million each year.

New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve partners with Reserves around the country to develop tools to advance the resilience of salt marshes in the face of rising seas. Photos courtesy of the Great Bay Reserve.

Conservation Corps Champion

Conservation Corps Champion

Apalachicola Reserve’s environmental manager Kim Wren.

President Franklin Roosevelt described the mission of the Civilian Conservation Corps as “conserving not only our natural resources, but our human resources.” Congratulations to a Reserve superhero who’s done exactly that: Kim Wren, environmental manager for Florida’s Apalachicola Reserve.

Earlier this year, Kim received a Champion of the Year Award presented by the 21st Century Conservation Corps in Washington, D.C. The award recognized Kim for her role as a founding partner of the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast and the Conservation Corps of the Emerald Coast, two groups that provide Florida’s young adults and military veterans with on-the-job experience in conservation, while creating economic and environmental benefits for nearby communities. 

“Under Kim’s constant nurturing, a unique partnership has formed between the Apalachicola Reserve and Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast,” says Apalachicola Reserve Manager Jenna Harper. “The program has flourished and, among other things, is training local youth in restoration science and biological monitoring—experiences they can carry into their future careers.”

Having worked in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection for the past 19 years, Kim has a long history of building partnerships and managing coastal resources. She brings this experience, passion, and dedication to the Apalachicola Reserve’s mission every day. Thank you, Kim, for being such a star!


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Citizens Team Up to Protect Turtle Nests

Citizens Team Up to Protect Turtle Nests

Apalachicola Reserve stewardship staff inspects a loggerhead turtle nest on McKissack Beach, accompanied by citizen volunteers who monitored the nests throughout incubation. Photo courtesy of John Walls.

Historically, Florida’s McKissack beach is popular with locals and visitors, but not with nesting sea turtles. So when local residents found two loggerhead turtle nests, they alerted the staff at the nearby Apalachicola Reserve. Now keeping an eye on the turtle eggs has become a priority for both them and the Reserve.

 “As a volunteer with Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Commission and the Audubon society, I help monitor the birds and everything connected to our beach,” says Belinda Wharton, who found one of the nests. “The turtles are part of that ecosystem so checking on them just became another part of my daily routine.”

Loggerheads are a threatened species monitored annually by permitted surveyors across Florida. The permit for McKissack beach is held by Reserve stewardship staff who help collect data on turtle nesting and help manage the area for successful hatching. Since 1996 there have been only five observed loggerhead nests in the McKissack beach area. To protect the new nests, Reserve staff installed Fish & Wildlife Commission turtle signs and self-releasing wire screens.

Wharton and other volunteers checked the nests daily for signs of predation or other disturbance. Like Wharton, the other volunteers are residents of the city of Carrabelle. For them, the beautiful intertidal marshes, beaches, and dunes of McKissack are places for walking, exercise, photography, wildlife viewing, and increasingly, getting involved in protecting what they value. Some are part of a shorebird conservation effort, and many are involved in the International Coastal Cleanup that takes place every September. Some even have initiated their own post-hurricane debris cleanups. And often, the Apalachicola Reserve is there to help.

ANERR’s stewardship coordinator, Caitlin Snyder, discusses the turtle nests with a group of invested local citizens. Photo courtesy of John Walls.

“The Reserve supports conservation beyond our borders through education and outreach,”  says Caitlin Snyder, stewardship coordinator at the Apalachicola Reserve. “We visit the site, answer questions, and provide educational materials. We also promote collaborative conservation with diverse stakeholders by getting involved in management plans or advisory groups, such as the one being developed for the McKissack Beach property.”

Being part of forums like these helps the Reserve respond community needs. For example, while motor vehicles are not permitted on McKissack, residents noticed tire tracks near one the sea turtle nests. The Reserve worked with the residents and were a support agency as they successfully petitioned the City of Carrabelle to install posts and signage. Later they collaborated with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Audubon, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a kiosk to educate beach visitors about wildlife, conservation, and the ordinances in place to safeguard the area.

“The Apalachicola Reserve’s support not only makes a difference for turtles,” says Wharton, “but for the community that is so invested in them. The staff made a great impression on us; they were professional, educational, and friendly during the nest evaluation and throughout the process.”

From this effort, three eggs successfully hatched, which may seem low if you don’t consider the many factors that impact successful incubation. According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings make it to adulthood. Every sea turtle nest matters against odds like that!

Happy 40th, Apalachicola & Elkhorn Slough!

Happy 40th, Apalachicola & Elkhorn Slough!

The sun sets on 40 years of Reserve success at Elkhorn Slough (left) and Apalachicola Reserve (right)! 

When you’re part of a big family, those happy birthdays just keep coming! Florida’s Apalachicola Reserve and California’s Elkhorn Slough Reserve are celebrating their 40th birthdays this fall. (We’re going to need more candles.)

Celebrate with Apalachicola…

Established in 1979, Apalachicola is the second-largest Reserve in our national system. Its 234,000 acres on Florida’s coast protect critical ecosystems and support local communities, including a fishing industry worth $16 million annually. Along with the Friends of the Reserve, we take such pride in Apalachicola’s many accomplishments, including preservation (check out the newly restored Marshall Field House), restoration, monitoring, community outreach, and education for thousands of schoolchildren. (Franklin county kids inspire us!) The Reserve is home to 109 plant and 54 animal species considered endangered, threatened, or of special concern, including the bald eagle and loggerhead sea turtle—it’s no wonder it is designated as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve!

Celebrate with Elkhorn Slough…

Also established in 1979, California’s Elkhorn Slough Reserve encompasses 1,439 acres of vital habitat around Monterey Bay. The first of California’s three Reserves, Elkhorn Slough protects vital habitat for sea lions, California sea otters (what a comeback!), harbor seals, and a rich variety of birds and other animals. The Reserve is a leader in large-scale restoration of local wetlands  and in national research initiatives to understand marsh resilience and the drivers behind it. Like all NERR sites, the Reserve is enriched by countless community members who transformed a series of “kitchen table conversations” into the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, a powerhouse partner for wetland conservation. In 2018,  Elkhorn Slough was recognized as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. It’s one of only 38 U.S. wetlands to receive this designation—glad the world recognizes what a treasure Elkhorn Slough Reserve is! (We knew it all along.) 

We’re looking forward to the incredible work our “twin” Reserves will do over their next 40 years—many happy returns!

Kid Power Makes Local Marsh Hurricane Strong

Kid Power Makes Local Marsh Hurricane Strong

In Florida’s Franklin County, all students celebrate National Estuaries Week and their stewardship of a local marsh at the Apalachicola Reserve. Photos courtesy of Jeff Dutrow.

Last October, Hurricane Michael smacked the Florida Panhandle with winds up to 160 mph and storm surges as high as 14 feet. In Franklin County, houses were damaged, roads washed out, and overnight debris and erosion transformed the coast. But at the Apalachicola Reserve, a ribbon of saltmarsh extending about 1,000 feet along the coast was remarkably undisturbed in the wake of that category five storm—an oasis of resilience and a testimony to the power of education and kids of all ages. This particular marsh has been under the care of the children of Franklin County since 2011, when the Reserve began to use it as the centerpiece for their education program. Every local child has the opportunity to learn about their estuary and what they can do to protect it, not once, but six times as they move from pre-K to high school.

“Being in a rural district provides a unique opportunity for us to work with students as they grow,” says Jeff Dutrow, the Reserve’s Education Coordinator. “We help them build a sense of stewardship through experiences that promote understanding and ownership of the watershed and confidence that they can make a difference.”

By third grade students are immersed in programs that explore the ecology of Apalachicola’s world famous oysters and the estuary itself—what Dutrow calls an “all you can eat buffet for living things.”

 In fifth grade, they pull on boots, slog through the mud, and plant cordgrass in the marsh. Their goal is to prevent erosion and create new habitat for the estuary critters that are the foundation of the local tourism and seafood industries. In seventh grade, students return to measure the progress of marsh growth and to count periwinkle snails, which are an indicator of the health of the food web.

“One day when we were pulling on our boots, a student told us the park where we were working in was named after his grandfather and another looked up and saw her father out at sea, tonging for oysters,” remembers Melanie Humble, a Franklin County educator who has brought many classes to the marsh.

 “Moments like that, where there is a perfect synthesis of history, community, and a path to a better future, are what teachers and students dream about—away from four walls and artifice and filled with practical ecology and hard, muddy work.”

In the wake of Hurricane Michael, students and educators got to see how their stewardship of a marsh helped protect the shoreline and the estuary that many families depend on for their livelihoods.

“The estuary provides Franklin County with a rich abundance of activities, food, wildlife, and for our youth, so much more than the fun of splashing in the water or casting a line,”  says Gina Tarranto, Dean of Students at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School. “Through our partnership with the Reserve, we can provide insightful learning opportunities that build future stewardship of our unique way of life by positively impacting the Estuary where our roots are firmly placed.”

Apalachicola Celebrates 36 Years as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Apalachicola Celebrates 36 Years as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Baby turtles are thriving at Apalachicola and all our Florida Reserves this year. Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Reserve.

Florida’s Apalachicola Reserve has a lot to celebrate this year. In addition to their 40th anniversary as a NERR site, they are commemorating 36 years as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. 

This designation marks the Reserve as an internationally acknowledged protected area that demonstrates a balanced relationship between people and nature. On Apalachicola Bay, where many locals depend on tourism and the $16 million annual fishing industry, maintaining this balance is a key focus of  the Reserve’s work. 

“The Biosphere Reserves’ mission aligns closely with that of the NERRS,” says Jenna Harper, manager of the Apalachicola Reserve. “While conservation of natural resources is of the utmost importance, both networks recognize that people play a large role in influencing  those resources, positively and negatively. Locally, we focus on understanding how our natural systems are changing and working with local communities to steward these resources for the future.”

Launched in 1971, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves is a network of 701 protected areas across 124 countries, 29 of which are in the United States. The boundaries of the Apalachicola Biosphere Reserve encompass 1,615,000 acres of land and 432,600 acres of water in Florida’s central panhandle. One of the most productive estuarine systems in the Northern Hemisphere, Apalachicola Bay hosts more than 54 species of wildlife that are designated as endangered, threatened, or of special concern and has the highest species density of reptiles and amphibians in North America, north of Mexico.

“A healthy bay means a healthy economy,” observes Rebecca Roth, NERRA’s executive director. “We are proud to celebrate Apalachicola’s role as a Biosphere Reserve and the incredible work they do to help communities manage the bay so that it remains productive for future generations.” 

Apalachicola Biosphere Reserve. Map courtesy of the Apalachicola Research Reserve.

ReservesApalachicola, Florida