Reserve Gets Gold Star

Reserve Gets Gold Star

The Chesapeake Bay Maryland Reserve received the Gold Star Award from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program for its extraordinary work as a partner committed to maintaining the environmental integrity of the Coastal Bays watershed. The experience and expertise of Kyle Derby, Research Coordinator for the Reserve, made the collaboration possible.

“Kyle brought his extensive technical knowledge of surface elevation tables (SETs) to the team as a tool to understand the impacts of sea level rise on marsh elevation and health,” says Jennifer Raulin, manager of the Reserve. “He’s also a fantastic teacher who can distill high level scientific information in an approachable, humorous, and memorable way.”

The Reserve helped install SETs to monitor wetland elevation change in the northern portion of Coastal Bays. This has enabled the Maryland Coastal Bays Program—one of 28 National Estuary Programs—to expand their tidal marsh monitoring and make their overall program more robust. 

“Kyle led the effort with Reserve staff to work with our state’s National Estuary Program to educate and train on the siting, installation, and monitoring of SETs;” says Raulin. “As a result we have an extended network of long-term monitoring sites that will give us a better picture of how Maryland’s marshes are changing over time. This collaboration was a perfect fit for the capacity of our Reserve and the NERRS.

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Education Superstar Earns Presidential Award

Education Superstar Earns Presidential Award

Hema Bhaskaran (left) at a Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) field program at Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve.

Please join NERRA in a huge round of applause congratulating Chesapeake Bay Reserve-Maryland’s superstar education partner, Hema Bhaskaran, on receiving the 2020 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching

Hema is an environmental science teacher at James M. Bennet high school in Salisbury, Maryland, and a mentor teacher for the Reserve’s Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) program. The Presidential Award for Excellence is the highest federal commendation for K through 12 teachers of mathematics and science.

“TOTE is an integral part of my growth as a teacher and as a teacher leader in environmental literacy,” says Hema. “As a mentor teacher in TOTE, I have the opportunity to work with a team of outstanding environmental educators and innovators in the field of environmental literacy.”

“Hema has been an incredible resource and advocate as a TOTE mentor teacher for the past three years,” says Coreen Weilminster, education coordinator at the Reserve. “This year she was the person who made it possible to translate our TOTE programs into a virtual format due to the pandemic. We were able to make it happen because of her hard work. She has been a teacher to all of us; we are so proud to see her recognized with this award!”

The TOTE mentor teacher position is made possible through the Reserve’s partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which hosts and trains mentor teachers for all their teacher professional development offerings. Hema is also a mentor for the Reserve’s Shoring Up Resilience Through Education program, which supports climate resilience education in Maryland’s coastal Somerset County.

Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) workshops are teacher training programs provided at most of the 29 National Estuarine Research Reserves. Each year, hundreds of teachers gain hands-on experience with real estuary science through TOTE, and bring that back to impact thousands of students. The TOTE program at Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve is a collaborative effort supported by the Reserve, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Talk NERRdy to Me: Shawn Slater

Talk NERRdy to Me: Shawn Slater

Talk NERRdy to Me is a column about leaders and luminaries from across our 29 reserves. This month, NERRA’s correspondent-at-large Nik Charov caught up with Shawn Slater, sixteen-year-old photographer and volunteer superstar at Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve. Shawn and Nik discuss the adrenaline rush of nailing the perfect shot, nature education at any age, and finding hope for the future in the next generation.

Nik: We’re talking to you today, Shawn Slater, because you rose to the attention of the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association with your photography. Who are you, what do you do, and where do you do it?

Shawn: I’m a big volunteer at the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, which is at the Otter Point Creek component of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maryland. I’ve been going there for five or six years now. I take pictures over there, and I take a lot of my pictures over at Harford Glen.

Nik: You’re just sixteen years old. How long have you been doing this, Shawn?

Shawn: I started off going to Harford Glen, that’s where I developed my passion for nature. I was probably around 10. I met a lady named Ruth Bergstrom, and she taught me all about birds, and I got into the Harford Bird Club, and that’s really where everything started. And getting my first ever camera. I just love taking pictures. And I love going out every single day and trying to get different pictures of animals. Now I have a bigger following on Instagram and Facebook, so I get to show people and teach people about all the animals and birds and insects and things that we have around here.

Nik: Why is that important?

Shawn: Because not too many people go outside like they used to. I don’t know too many people that go around hiking every single day. It’s really nice and there’s so much to learn and see every time you go out.

Nik: What’s your earliest nature memory? 

Shawn: I remember when I was super little, probably four or five, and we went to Mariner Point Park in Joppa. It’s where I learned to ride a bike. And they have these wild squirrels that will come right up to you, and I’m actually good friends with one of the ladies that hand feeds them. It’s pretty neat to see. 

Nik: Why do you take the pictures you do?

Shawn: I love taking pictures. It’s my favorite thing to do and I’m outside every day. Some days by 5:30 in the morning I’m already out in the woods. And I’ll be out from three to eight hours or more every single day trying to find something different to take pictures of. When I look through my viewfinder, I try to come up with an interesting composition. Or if I can’t come up with a composition, I’ll just try to get as close as I can to what I’m photographing. Sometimes I’ll be in full camouflage and I’ll have to Army crawl through the woods. And actually, sometimes, especially with ducks and water stuff, I’ll lay in the water with my camera just a millimeter above the water. Sometimes I wish I had someone else to take a picture of ME, because it must look really funny. I recently got a really nice low-angle shot of a female mallard duck and three babies like that.

”Nik: Given that you’re just sixteen, what do you want to do? Do you want to do this professionally? Do you envision yourself in natural places forever?

Shawn: I’m thinking of a career as a forest ranger, a wildlife biologist, or wildlife photographer. Something along those lines. I want to be in the parks because that’s my favorite thing. If I was a park ranger or forest ranger, I could just carry around a camera and take pictures along the way!

Nik: You might get a job offer from someone reading this article. You remind me of a few of them. Are you involved with CBNERR in other ways? 

Shawn: I’m a big volunteer there. I help in their juvenile fish survey, where we go out on a boat and get a 100-foot seine net. I help with hikes, kayak and canoe trips. On different trips we see eagles, herons, beaver, all kinds of things; sometimes we’ll see otters too. I’m also a Marsh Mucker, that’s a team of teen volunteers. At the Estuary Center we have an animal room with a variety of snakes and turtle species, and we do healthcare and feed the animals. We haven’t done it for a little bit because of COVID-19, but that was one of my favorite things to do there.

Nik: I know most of our volunteers up here in Maine are usually on the other side of their careers. I imagine in these citizen science projects, you’re often the youngest person there?

Shawn: Most of the time, yes. 

Nik: How do you feel about that? Are they mentors for you, or are you a mentor for them?

Shawn: I feel like everybody’s a mentor, because there’s always something new that you can learn. Every time you go out in the field and learn, you get better and faster at doing stuff. For example, identifying birds: if you only do it occasionally, you’re not going to be as fast and know as many birds as someone who goes out every single day for years. It’s all practice. Even if you’re the expert, there’s still more you can learn. 

Nik: Do you bring your knowledge into school? 

Shawn: At school I’m involved in the Envirothon, which is a national competition with all the high schools in the United States and some in Canada. It’s all about ecology and environmental science, with topics like wildlife, aquatics, forestry, and soils. At my school, I teach wildlife. I bring field guides and I use my own pictures and say ‘here’s this bird, figure out what it is’ and teach the other students to identify everything. 

Nik: What does your family think of you going out at 5:30 in the morning and sliding into the mud?

Shawn: Haha, well, my mom doesn’t usually want me to go that early in the morning. And she usually checks on me every hour or so, unless I’m at the Estuary Center or on a boat with other people. 

Nik: Same thing happens with the Reserve Manager down at Rookery Bay in Florida

Shawn: I’ve seen so much out there, especially recently. I found an otter den and I got a picture of all three otters all in a row! You get such an adrenaline rush.

Nik: I’m a photographer myself, and I know what you mean. Shawn, keep up your great work. Give us hope for the future. Last question: how do you feel about the world and where it’s going?

Shawn: I think not very many people get out too much any more. And I think that’s something people my own age should start doing. 90% of the time when I go to the parks, it’s all adults. I think there should be more younger people to keep everything going. 

Nik: How do we reintroduce young people to nature?

Shawn: I think the best way is education. Because that’s how I got started. I was out on a hike and somebody showed me all the different bird species, and there were so many I couldn’t even believe it! Now I’ve seen over 220 bird species in the United States, and most people are, like, ‘wow, how do you see all that?’ Recently I showed someone who lives around here a picture of a yellow warbler and they were like, ‘wow, was that HERE?’ They thought it was the craziest thing, they’ve never seen anything like it. But I see them all the time in migration season. 

Nik: You gotta look up from your phones, people. 

Shawn: Yep!

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Maryland Students “SURE” Up Resilience

Maryland Students “SURE” Up Resilience

Somerset County high school students pose with marine debris they collected as part of Shoring Up Resilience through Education (SURE).

What does it mean for a person to be resilient? When you ask a fifth-grade Maryland student, they start with the immediate: it means they’re healthy.

“As the student keeps talking, we build it out. To be healthy, your house needs to be dry, you’re not exposed to mold and mosquitoes, you don’t have to wade across flooded roads to get to school,” says Coreen Weilminster, education coordinator at Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve. “Students start to understand that to be resilient you need a healthy home, a healthy yard, a healthy community, a healthy ecosystem. And in Somerset County, that means you need healthy marshes and shorelines.”

To help local 5th, 7th, and 9th grade students better understand the connection between health, a changing climate, and the estuary in their own backyard, the Reserve, through Maryland Department of Natural Resources and other partners, developed the hands-on educational program, Shoring Up Resilience through Education (SURE).

“When you’re talking to 5th grade students, ‘climate change’ and ‘climate resilience’ are abstract terms,” says Weilminster. “SURE helps them make sense of the science behind these forces and what they can do to help ‘shore up’ their community’s future.”

The Maryland Department of Health, which provides one source of funds for SURE, identified Somerset County as an area in significant need of support. Although the county borders 1,102 miles of Chesapeake Bay—making it reliant on aquatic resources and vulnerable to coastal hazards—its school district struggles for resources and lags in environmental literacy. SURE, which started in 2017, serves all public schools in the county and now reaches more than  600 students each year.

“Helping students understand their impact on the environment requires more than a one-day field trip. It requires a concerted, ongoing effort from teachers,” says Traci Schnieder, science supervisor for Somerset County Public Schools. “SURE supports that—it prepares teachers to plan, implement, and follow through with their students.”

The program hosts teacher training and professional development days; develops instructional units on resiliency which focus on environmental topics that fit within each grade’s curriculum; sponsors student-led stewardship projects; and provides classroom and field-based experiences. These include interactions with scientists and community figures like farmers and watermen who can share personal examples of how changing environmental conditions affect their local livelihoods.

For local teachers, the returns are obvious. “We will realize the full benefits of this program for years to come as our current students continue living in the community,” says Schnieder.

SURE is supported by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of Health, Somerset County Public Schools, Environmental Protection Services Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant Program, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore.


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Local waterman Buck Jarusek (top) and mayor of Crisfield, Maryland, Kim Lawson (bottom) educate students on the real impacts of a changing coast.

Left: A hands-on professional development workshop connects a seventh-grade teacher with one of Chesapeake Bay’s key critters. Right: Fifth-graders explore what they value in their coastal community.

Nature Play for Young Explorers

Nature Play for Young Explorers

Whoa! There’s a new way to discover nature at our Mayland Reserve. Photo courtesy of Otter Point Creek Alliance.

Do you remember a time when a stump could be a kitchen table and a log was a stove? Or a pile of rocks became a fort in an epic neighborhood battle? Or when you discovered the freedom and magic of being outside in nature?

Olivia Wisner can. That’s one reason she worked with the Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve and their friends group—the Otter Point Creek Alliance (OPCA)—to transform a stand of oaks, tulip poplars, and mountain laurel into a natural discovery area where Hartford County kids can have good old unstructured fun and be inspired by the estuary in their backyard.

“At the end of the day, play is the most fundamental kind of learning,” says Wisner, who worked on the project as part of a post undergrad internship with the Chesapeake Conservation Corps. “When I came here, we identified early child education as a gap in Reserve programming. I thought this could help, though we found it’s been fun for much older kids, too!”

Along with being fun, free play in natural setting has been shown to help kids get stronger, more self-confident, and better able to manage risks and focus their attention. Constructed largely from materials on hand near the Reserve’s Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, the discovery area is designed for kids to follow their own interests and energy.

They can jump and balance, engineer a fort, make music, paddle a land-locked canoe, whip up a meal in the nature kitchen, or even put on a show. And if they need some down time, there’s a giant snail to rest and dream on.

Photo courtesy of the OPCA.

The project would not have happened without the support and knowledge that the folks at OPCA provided,” says Wisner. She describes the experience as an “all hands on deck” process in which OPCA volunteers provided grant writing support, helped find supplies, gave advice on construction, and joined other members of the Corps in rolling up their sleeves on construction day.

“We were thrilled to help—this project fits right into our mission to support the Reserve and the Estuary Center, “ says Sharyn Spray, OPCA board chair. “It was something concrete that we could help create. It was completely rewarding to start with some downed trees and a blank slate and have it become a place kids enjoy so much. We look forward to improving it in the future.”

Nearly 60 volunteers from the OPCA and the Chesapeake Conservation Corps pitched in to help build the playground. Photo courtesy of Olivia Wisner.

Since the play area opened in June, hundreds of children and young families have taken advantage of this opportunity to connect with the beauty of the Otter Point Creek, including those who participate in the camps supported by the OPCA.

“In 25 years of environmental education, I’ve come to understand you can’t love something unless you get to know it,” says Coreen Weilminster, the education coordinator for the Reserve and one of Olivia’s mentors. “This discovery area is a dedicated space for ‘going off the trail’ to play and think and feel close to nature and animals. It helps kids engage all of their senses outside in a positive, safe way.”

Experiences like this, Weilminster observes, can be a challenge in the area’s schools. Although there is more interest in outdoor programs, often the drive to get kids outside is motivated by individual teachers. When one interested in environmental education leaves a school, the opportunities for kids to get outside can go with them.

“This is one reason why it’s so important for the Reserve and the Center to market and provide field trip opportunities for schools and create outdoor experiences for the public,” says Weilminster.

For Olivia, the experience has affirmed her interest in environmental education and she plans to go right into that field, an outcome that Reserve staff, the OPCA, and the organizers of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps hope for—new leaders ready to take on the challenges of protecting Chesapeake Bay’s environmental resources.

“Building the Nature Discovery Area was an incredible learning experience for me,” says Olivia. “I hope that the space provides a meaningful learning experience for all who visit it.”


DC Download: August 2019

DC Download: August 2019

In early August, congressional staff took to the water to see how Reserves protect places and people on Chesapeake Bay.

We’re happy to see members of Congress and their staff beat the DC heat this summer in the best way possible—by visiting Reserves around the country!

A big NERRA thank you to the co-chairs of the Estuaries Caucus—Representatives Bill Posey (FL), Suzanne Bonamici (OR), Rick Larsen (WA), and Brian Mast (FL). Earlier this month, they brought a group of congressional staff to our Maryland Reserve so they could learn how place-based programs build stronger communities.

The outing was hosted by Reserve staff with support from their partners at Patuxent River Park and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management. Staff from the offices of Representatives Bonamici (OR), Jared Huffman (CA), Frank Pallone (NJ), Alan Lowenthal (CA), Jerry McNerney (CA), and members of the subcommittee for House CJS Appropriations got a hands-on opportunity to learn more about our Reserves and enjoy a beautiful day on Chesapeake Bay.

In the midwest, our Lake Superior Reserve hosted staff from the offices of Senator Tammy Baldwin’s and Representative Pete Stauber’s (MN). Our Great Lakes representatives in Congress have consistently demonstrated that they are true champions of the coasts and our Reserves and we thank them for that!

Colleene Thomas (second from right), senior policy advisor from Senator Baldwin’s office, joined Lake Superior Reserve staff and partners for a trip on the the R2512. This NOAA-supported vessel is used for research, monitoring and education in near-shore environments.

In the Mid Atlantic, the Jacques Cousteau Reserve hosted staff from Senator Cory Booker’s (NJ) office. Alongside tours of the Reserve’s Grassle Trail, Marine Field Station, Life on the Edge exhibit, and the Sandy Marsh restoration site, Booker’s staff gained a new appreciation of the entire Reserve System.

Are you planning to host congressional representatives at your Reserve in the coming months? Let us know at

Two of Senator Booker’s staff—Sea Grant Fellow Ben Hughey and Project Specialist Kaitlin McGuinness (center)—went from ship to shore to learn about monitoring and restoration at our New Jersey Reserve.

ReservesChesapeake Bay, Maryland