Superstars Among Us

Superstars Among Us

We know they’re awesome, but it’s wonderful to see Reserve staff from around the System receiving formal accolades for their creativity and hard work in support of estuaries and coastal communities. A big congratulations to these NERRS superstars—and thank you for all you do!

Sarah McGuire Nuss, Education Coordinator, Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve

Sarah McGuire Nuss received the 2020 Conservation Educator Award from the Garden Club of Virginia. This prestigious statewide award honors Sarah for her education and outreach programs that bring marine science to K-12 students. These include family-friendly Discovery Labs, summer camps, teacher training workshops, and partnerships with local schools

She has also served as president of the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association and helps lead the Virginia Scientists & Educators Alliance. Through these and many other activities, she has impacted thousands of children in tidewater Virginia and beyond. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah and the education team have continued to provide alternative online opportunities for learning about the environment. 

Julie Stone, President of the Garden Club of Gloucester, says “Sarah’s students not only learn about marine science but also about how to bring a spirit of scientific inquiry to exploring nature. Whether her students are in elementary school, middle school, or high school, or are teachers themselves, they are truly inspired by her energy and passion for science.”

Kristin Evans, Education Coordinator, Texas’s Mission-Aransas Reserve

Kristin Evans received the Higher Education Award from the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation’s Environmental Conservation & Stewardship Award program. Kristin’s award recognizes her work with educators, students, families, and professionals across the Texas Coastal Bend.

The foundation credits her as being “among the most innovative educators in the Coastal Bend, holding over 25 years of experience which include education, professional services, and hands on pedagogical expertise.” They also acknowledge how her ability to deliver effective education programs during unpredictable, challenging times “has shaped the community of not only teachers and students, but families, and other educators in the informal realm.”

Rose Masui, Harmful Species Program Coordinator, Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Reserve

Rose earned the Alaska Invasive Species Partnership’s Outreach Award for her outstanding efforts and commitment to the early detection of marine invasive species. She continues to build partnerships across communities and agencies to provide education and outreach, share protocols, guides and datasheets to support local efforts for the early detection of marine invasive species.

Rose is also the coordinator for the Kachemak Bay Community Monitor European Green Crab Early Detection Program and the Kachemak Bay Reserve’s Invasive Tunicate Monitoring Program. Her nomination recognizes that she pursues all her work “with a professionalism, openness and reliability that enables partnerships and programs to thrive.” Rose also coordinates the statewide Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring Network, a lifesaving outreach program.

Chris Bowser, Education Coordinator, New York’s Hudson River Reserve

Chris Bowser received the 2020 Leadership Award from the New York State Outdoor Education Association in honor of his 25 years of service as an environmental educator in the Hudson Valley. 

This touching and inspiring video (that Chris was asked to prepare by the awards committee) recognizes how the programming he has run behind for many years has made a difference in  one of the New York communities he supports. Thanks in part to Chris’s work, there is a new generation of environmental stewards emerging in the Hudson River Valley. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Lake Superior Reserve, Wisconsin

The Lake Superior Reserve won an award from the National Weather Service (NWS) in September for enhancing community understanding of lakeshore flooding. The Ambassador of Excellence awards recognize local community members who have made significant contributions to helping build a weather-ready nation. The Lake Superior Reserve was recognized as a critical partner on multiple fronts, most recently in organizing a local conference on the subject of high and low water levels in Lake Superior, at which the National Weather Service presented. The conference connected National Weather Services resources with dozens of stakeholders across the Lake Superior shoreline. Afterwards, the Reserve partnered with NWS to establish the working group CHAOS (Coastal Hazards of Lake Superior), whose activities are continuing to connect communities with science, data, and best practices around lakeshore flooding and other coastal hazards.

Reserves Meet Teachers & Students Online

Reserves Meet Teachers & Students Online

In 2020, Reserve educators have rallied behind students and teachers coping with the challenges of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many have taken to the virtual world, creating new ways for students to learn about estuaries with activities, curricula, video tours, and projects that encourage children to get outside in safe ways. They also are offering professional development opportunities for teachers on topics such as online learning platforms and outdoor schooling. 

As a result, thousands of students and teachers around the country continue to benefit from Reserve education programs. Some of these are highlighted below but there are many more. We encourage you to learn more about your estuary and others here. (Bookmark that page—we update it weekly!)

ACE Basin Reserve, South Carolina

When schools shut down in March, the ACE Basin Reserve’s education staff didn’t skip a beat. They created lessons using local water quality data, which were shared with 840 teachers and several hundred parents across the state. Later, they took children on virtual field trips and hosted virtual summer camps. This fall, they are supporting teachers with activity emails, virtual field trips, educational videos paired with live Q&A, and hands-on training adapting curriculum and teaching methods for an online world. 

“We have provided marine science and environmental education to teachers in South Carolina for decades and have developed close relationships with them,” says Julie Binz, education coordinator at the Reserve. “We’ve been able to reach out to these teachers in times like these, ask them directly what they need, and do what we can to help.”

Chesapeake Bay Reserve, Virginia

Springtime at the Chesapeake Bay Reserve usually means field programs that bring children to the estuary. This year, education staff jumped into action to transfer key programs, like the Discovery Lab, online. They created themed DIY activities, engaged families with online experts, and made educators directly available through Facebook to answer questions. 

They also created a 12-week program, Summer on the Bay, that offers videos, virtual field trips, resources, and activities. Using Reserve materials, they were able to create and mail out free literacy kits to over 50 students from Virginia to California.

“The Reserve is where locals get a lot of information about the Bay,” says Sarah Nuss, Reserve education coordinator. “It was the right fit because we already have that connection with the local community.”

Educators from Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve film a video outside.

Lake Superior Reserve – Wisconsin

Last spring, local elementary school teachers got vital support from the Lake Superior Reserve’s Rivers2Lake program. The Reserve’s Nature Nibbles videos and worksheets became the sole science curriculum for more than 2,000 elementary school students throughout the Superior school district.

The Reserve also provided a workshop on how to teach outdoors and created a monthly virtual professional development series for teachers. 

“We really want to emphasize the role of nature in the social and emotional wellbeing of kids,” says Deanna Erickson, acting manager at the Lake Superior Reserve. “We have the content, the bandwidth, the relationship with teachers, and the knowledge of these students to really jump in and try to help them solve the insolvable.”

This fall, the Reserve plans to expand its offerings by creating the St. Louis River Field School to provide safe, healthy field experiences for middle schoolers who are practicing home-based learning.

“The Reserve staff are kind, honest, passionate people,” says Sue Correll, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Lake Superior Elementary. “They are experts but very approachable with questions. People feel like they can come to them.”

Fourth grade Rivers2Lake teacher Jess Gagne special guest stars in a Nature Nibble video about trees.

Chesapeake Summit Advances Wetland Resilience

Chesapeake Summit Advances Wetland Resilience

Maryland salt marsh. Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Reserve, Maryland.
The marshes of Chesapeake Bay are among the most beautiful and productive in the world. Unfortunately, they also are among the most threatened. Last month, more than 230 stakeholders, gathered for the Marsh Resilience Summit—a first of its kind, inspiring regional dialogue on how to advance marsh and community resilience in the face of sea level rise and other stressors.

The summit was organized by the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative, Maryland Sea Grant, and our Chesapeake Bay Reserves in Virginia and Maryland with input from a regional steering committee. It attracted participants from more than 100 management, research, governmental, and nonprofit organizations. Lectures and discussions explored topics including carbon credits for wetlands and the collateral benefits of marsh conservation—a session that stressed the equation: healthy marshes = healthy communities.

U.S. Representative Rob Wittman (VA) and Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles addressed the threats facing Chesapeake Bay in their opening remarks. Both encouraged increasing the accessibility of science to decision makers who could translate data into policy and action. Representative Wittman also urged summit participants to engage more citizens in their efforts.

“We need to involve citizens to the point where they associate a value with our wetlands,” observed Wittman. His remarks were underscored by sessions exploring the responses of agricultural, faith-based, and industrial communities to climate change, which made it clear that the benefits of marshes—and the impacts of their loss—are far reaching.

From left: Willy Reay, director of the Chesapeake Bay Reserve, Virginia; U.S. Congressman Rob Wittman; Ellen Herbert, ecosystem scientist at Ducks Unlimited, and Sally Lawrence Wood, assistant to the director, Chesapeake Bay Reserve, Virginia. 

“The summit underscored that there are many ways to value wetlands—monetarily, spiritually, and physically,” says Willy Reay, director of Chesapeake Bay’s Virginia Reserve. “Now, our charge is to now share those values with everyone in the region.”

The summit highlighted the efforts of organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative, which already works to elevate the state of the science and foster a sense of communal stewardship of wetlands among the region’s residents. Coordinated by Taryn Sudol, the Cooperative is a bay-wide collection of ecosystem-based study sites (including those at the Virginia and Maryland Reserves) that apply regional science to coastal management and resilience efforts.

The summit was sponsored, in part, by a NERRS Science Collaborative Capacity Building grant. Summit steering committee members included representatives from both Chesapeake Bay Reserves and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management. For more about the summit, visit the Sentinel Site Cooperative’s web site.

—With thanks to Cirse Gonzalez, Coastal Training Program Coordinator from our Virginia Reserve, for contributing to this article.

Changing of the Virginia Guard

Changing of the Virginia Guard

 Ken Moore and his sweet ride. Photos courtesy Chesapeake Bay Virginia Reserve.

Forty-five years ago, Ken Moore pulled up to Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in his 1966 Mustang. Last December, he drove away in the same car, and in the rearview, was a remarkable career.

Ken is an international leader in the field of coastal water quality and seagrass ecology and has contributed significantly to the preservation and restoration of ecologically important seagrass habitats around the world, especially in Chesapeake Bay, which saw a remarkable recovery in 2017.

He had a ringside seat for the founding of our Chesapeake Bay Reserve in Virginia in 1991. There, he oversaw the Reserve’s System-Wide Monitoring Program, which uses a network of continuously recording water quality sensors, meteorological stations, and intensive biological monitoring. A particular focus was to develop, new, enhanced shallow water monitoring technologies.

“Looking back over some 16 years where Ken served as the Reserve’s Science Lead, he is leaving us in a much better place,” says Reserve Director Willy Reay. “Our goal to continue to build upon his efforts—in short to continue Ken’s Legacy. This effort includes the continued build-out of our coastal habitat sentinel site and water quality monitoring and assessment programs.”

Ken’s also left the future of coastal science in a much better place. Through his work at the Reserve and as chair of the VIMS Department of Biological Sciences, Ken mentored many students and young scientists, helping them to conduct coastal research at VIMS and throughout the Reserve system. Through it all, he been a colleague who is “welcoming, fun, interesting…heliophilic, persistent….and sweet.”

There’s no doubt that Ken has left some big waders to fill, but we are fortunate to have Dr. Carl Friedrichs willing to try them on.

Welcome to Carl Friedrichs!

Carl is the Loretta and Lewis Chaired Professor of Marine Science and the Department of Physical Sciences Chair at VIMS. He received a B.A. in Geology form Amherst College and a Ph.D from MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography.

Carl’s scientific expertise and interests compliment the Reserve and the system and will help us continue to make impactful contributions to coastal observing systems, water quality assessments including syntheses and modeling, and shallow water and wetland ecosystem science and management. Central to his new position will be to serve as an advisor to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the multi-state/agency Chesapeake Bay Program,  and NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

Welcome to Cirse Gonzalez!

Our Virginia Reserve is also welcoming a new coastal training program coordinator, Cirse Gonzalez. To the Reserve she brings experience in communications and outreach, natural resource management, responsible recreation and marine ecology from her work with organizations including the U.S. Federation Recreation Council and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Cirse is devoted to fostering science-based and community-supported resource management and socio-ecological system resilience. Her career has taken her from Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska to Mali Island, Fiji. We’re glad she found her way to Virginia!

Please join NERRA, Willy, and the rest of the crew at our Virginia Reserve in welcoming Carl and Cirse to the NERRS family!

Reserve Science Supports Chesapeake Bay Seagrass Recovery

Reserve Science Supports Chesapeake Bay Seagrass Recovery

Our Virginia reserve’s monitoring program keeps tabs on local water quality and wetlands to help understand and manage Chesapeake Bay’s habitats. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Reserve.

Chesapeake Bay’s “secret garden” is experiencing a bumper crop of seagrass, according to a recent study conducted by a team including Dr. Ken Moore, research coordinator at our Virginia Reserve. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study determined that long-term efforts to reduce polluted runoff from farms and water treatment facilities have led to a 316% increase in the Bay’s submerged aquatic vegetation—the largest such resurgence ever recorded.

Submerged vegetation, like seagrasses, provide shelter and food for fish and shellfish that support the region’s fishing and tourism economies. Like plants on land, seagreasses need light to grow. When nutrients and sediment carried by runoff make coastal waters cloudier, it puts seagrass habitats at risk. The study found that three decades of cleanup not only contributed to increases in submerged aquatic vegetation, it also enhanced biodiversity, a critical factor to sustaining the health of these habitats.

“We’ve seen remarkable water clarity improvement in many areas,” says Moore, who is also a professor of marine science at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Marine Science. “Getting to this outcome and understanding how it happened is the culmination of many years of partnership, policy, funding, science, restoration, and community action coming together.”

For more than 20 years, Moore and his colleagues at the Virginia Reserve have focused their efforts on understanding seagrass vulnerability to nutrients and a warming climate. Just as a doctor will check your vital signs during a physical, they look for indicators of the health of submerged vegetation. The reserve’s monitoring program keeps tabs on local water quality, nutrient and sediment levels, and the condition of submerged vegetation during the growing season. Together with partners around the Bay, they use this data to inform science that explores the many questions surrounding the health of these important habitats.

“Our job is to define what these habitats need to grow and to give management tools and knowledge so they are ready to take whatever actions that might be needed,” observes Moore. “It has been reassuring to see that while these systems decline quickly, they also can recover. However, as water temperatures increase, these plants will be subject to additional stress. They will require even clearer waters with more light and lower nutrient enrichment to survive and thrive. We want to be prepared to meet those needs.”

Virginia Students Get Science from the Source

Virginia Students Get Science from the Source

More than 3,000 Virginia students are immersed in local science, data, and the outdoors at the state’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve. Photos courtesy of Sarah Nuss.
When teachers ask Sarah Nuss “how healthy is the bay?” she is happy to have some good news to share. “I tell them underwater grasses are rebounding,” says the Education Coordinator at our Virginia Reserve. “It helps to have a positive message to inspire people, not be all doom and gloom.”

As an educator who works with roughly 3,000 of Virginia’s students and dozens of teachers each year, Nuss is also happy to have direct access to the trove of data, research, and scientific expertise at her reserve and its partner, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It’s a powerful resource for education and outreach programs like hers, which played a key role in supporting community awareness and action that supported the seagrass recovery.

“We have the luxury of looking across all of this research and picking what would be the best to translate into a field experience for middle school or high school students,” she says. “So when we say ‘look, here’s a positive outcome,’ we can also explain the science behind how it happened using local data.”

Case in point is a lesson plan that Nuss co-authored in 2016 with Celeste Venolia, a NOAA Hollings Undergraduate Scholar. Based on a 2012 study conducted by the reserve, the plan was published in Current, the Journal of Marine Education. Creating it was a unique opportunity for Venolia to see how emerging research and education come together.

“I had a blast getting out in the field with reserve scientists as they monitored seagrass and then working with Sarah to figure out a way to communicate the ecological concepts and monitoring methods,” says Venolia, who was an undergraduate at Smith College at the time. “Then I was able to I teach the lesson plan to middle-schoolers at a week-long overnight camp on the Eastern Shore.”

The experience helped Venolia understand how comfortable she is at the boundary between research and education. “I’m in graduate school at the University of Rhode Island studying energetics modelling to support kelp and oyster aquaculture. My reserve experience made me confident I want to find ways to weave both science and informal education together in a career.”

“Translating research into terms most people can understand is a valuable tool that is needed to solve some of the problems along our coasts,” says Nuss. “We need to be able to communicate the science to everyone to move forward with protecting and preserving our coastline.”

Celeste Venolia brought education and science together in her Hollings Fellowship.

ReservesChesapeake Bay, Virginia