Building the Blue/Green Workforce

Building the Blue/Green Workforce

Digging into field work at Oregon’s South Slough Reserve.

An unprecedented number of young people want to work in the environmental sciences, and to do that, they need on the ground experience. Reserves around the country are helping our next generation of scientists get their boots wet—and muddy—through NOAA’s Hollings Scholarship Program.

This program supports summer internships for undergraduates at a NOAA facility. Many students end up at Reserves, where they can get practical experience in coastal, oceanic, and atmospheric science, technology, policy, and management, all while addressing some of the most critical issues facing our coasts today.

“I am very passionate about climate resilience,” says Everett Craddock, Hollings Scholar at Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Reserve. “This project could have a direct impact on the area’s ability to develop adaptation strategies that prevent local fisheries from being negatively impacted by climate change.”

“I aim to answer questions about the effects of industrial contamination and climate change on Indian Country,” says Jessica Lambert, another Hollings Scholar at Kachemak Bay and enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation. “I have seen the destructive impact on my own Tribe firsthand. I am excited about the possibilities for remediation and to bring to light such a crucial issue that is too often overlooked.”

Working side-by-side with their Reserve mentors and their partners gives the scholars an opportunity to network and develop the skills they need to work in science in the future.

“My time at Padilla Bay allowed me to work with and learn from incredible researchers,” says Anna Poston, Hollings Scholar at the Padilla Bay Reserve in Washington. “Working with the researchers at the Reserve solidified my desire to attend graduate school and helped me develop the critical thinking and coding skills necessary to succeed in research.”

A moment of zen amid the field work at the Padilla Bay Reserve.

Dozens of scholars have trained at Reserves over the past ten years and many of them do. Some even go onto graduate work.

“I am working on improving our understanding of the biogeochemistry of Great Bay,” says Anna Lowien, a Margaret A. Davidson (MAD) Fellow at the New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve and former Hollings Scholar. “I did my internship at Kachemak Bay and loved it! I knew then I wanted to be part of the Reserve System.”

The Hollings Scholarship Program sponsored Anna Lowein’s internship at Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Reserve, where she used her knowledge of hydrology to develop computer models, now used by Reserve partners to predict peak salmon months more effectively and plan management decisions accordingly.

Reserve participation in the Hollings Scholar Program is coordinated by Nina Garfield, Dani Boudreau, and Chris Kinkade at NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and made possible by generous support from Reserve mentors every year.

Anna Posten’s work explored seagrass habitat resilience and restoration in the face of environmental change at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve. (Mentor: Sylvia Yang)

Everett Craddock’s work focused on groundwater recharge-discharge in the Anchor River watershed at the Kachemak Bay Reserve in Alaska. (Mentor: Mark Rains)

Jessica Lambert’s work analyzed different ways of knowing groundwater in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay region. (Mentors: Coowe Walker and Syverine Bentz)

Petra Zuniga researched the links between vegetation, hydrology, and soils in undisturbed and restored wetlands at the South Slough Reserve in Oregon. (Mentor: Jenni Schmitt)

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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.

New Faces Across the NERRS

New Faces Across the NERRS

Our Reserve family has some new faces, each bringing fresh talents and energy to their respective Reserves. Please join NERRA in welcoming these new NERRds to the family!

Vanessa Dornisch, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau Reserve

Vanessa grew up spending winters in Florida and summers at the Jersey Shore. All that time in coastal areas made her fall in love with the environment and pursue a career protecting it. After attending Rowan University for her undergraduate degree and University of Florida for graduate school, Vanessa worked in coastal resilience in Florida for several years before joining the staff at the Jacques Cousteau Reserve

“I am so excited to join the Reserve System because I’m a huge advocate of interdisciplinary approaches to research, education, and protecting coastal resources,” says Vanessa. “As CTP Coordinator, I’m looking forward to working with local communities to build resilience to sea level rise and flooding.”

Rachel Best, Office Coordinator at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve

When you call the Padilla Bay interpretive center or stop to visit the exhibits and aquariums, you’ll find a new face behind the counter—Rachel Best has joined the Reserve as its new office coordinator and administrative assistant.

Rachel is a native Washingtonian who grew up enjoying the great outdoors. She’s a coastal activist even outside of work, volunteering on the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee and the Skagit Conservation District’s Clean Streams project. She’s also a Salish Sea Steward volunteer, and headed that group’s advisory team.


Sarah Brostrom, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve

Sarah Brostrom, joined the Padilla Bay team in May. She is coordinating the Salish Sea Stewards volunteer training program (now virtual) and is ramping up to lead the Reserve’s Coastal Training Program (CTP) as it adapts to the COVID-19 world of virtual professional development. 

Sara grew up near the Salish Sea in Lacey, Washington, exploring the shores of Budd Inlet and camping and hiking with her family in the state’s many beautiful ecosystems. For Sara, these formative experiences sparked an early interest in environmental science. After studying at the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at University of Washington, Sara spent a year in the Washington Sea Grant Hershman Fellowship where she worked on projects related to sea level rise and was lucky enough to participate in the Coastal Training Program.

“I’m excited to bring experience in the field of education and marine policy to my role, and to explore new ways to broaden the reach of Padilla Bay’s CTP,” says Sara. “And I look forward to working with my new co-workers and to exploring the Reserve in-person!”

Sabra Comet, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at Oregon’s South Slough Reserve

Sabra (pronounced “Say-bruh”) comes to Oregon’s South Slough Reserve from NOAA’s Silver Spring office, where she worked in the Integrated Ocean Observing System and Technology, Planning and Integration for Observation programs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Southern Oregon University, a Master’s in Natural Resources Conservation from Portland State University, and is a former Knauss Fellow with Oregon Sea Grant. She brings with her a wealth of professional experience related to coastal and ocean issues. 

“I’m very excited to be part of the Coastal Training Program, as it fits the mix of policy, science, and boots-on-the-ground community interaction that I love,” says Sabra. “Both the staff at the Reserve and at the NOAA level are very welcoming and passionate, and the diverse stakeholder audience will keep the job interesting far into the future.”


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South Slough Restoration Project Connects Community

South Slough Restoration Project Connects Community

Oregon’s South Slough Reserve transformed the unhealthy forest around their visitor’s center in the fall of 2019.

The project was designed to reduce fire risk, improve forest health, diversify habitat, and enhance educational opportunities at the visitor’s center.  As a result of the work, the Reserve was able to donate 120 cedar logs harvested from the project to two local tribal nations, the Coquille and the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw. Other logs were used to make visitor benches and milled into boards for future wildlife education programs.

Over 2,300 students were educated at the South Slough Reserve in 2019, and the marriage of a major stewardship project to education expanded the Reserve’s capacity for 2020, and benefited the local tribal community too. Now that’s a win-win!

South Slough Coming & Going

South Slough Coming & Going

John Bragg (left), retired as South Slough’s coastal training program (CTP) coordinator earlier this year. Keary Howley (right) joined the Reserve as their new Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist.

Oregon’s South Slough Reserve has gone through some changes this year, with the retirement of John Bragg as coastal training program (CTP) coordinator and the hiring of Keary Howley as a Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist. Please join NERRA in warmly thanking John for his 18 years of service and welcoming Keary to the NERRd family!


John retired at the end of January after 18 years of service. As CTP coordinator, he  offered training and technical assistance to Oregon decision makers on habitat restoration, water quality, invasive species, human impacts on protected places, nearshore ocean processes, and climate change. These trainings provided the flexible, practical assistance local coastal managers needed as they responded to a range of challenges.  

John is also a photographer who contributed numerous photos to the Reserve’s library over the years. He designed many of the Reserve’s posters and other publications, which showcased his eye for artistic design.

John has plans to travel, but expects to remain in Coos County in the near future, “where there are still lots of pictures waiting to be shot.” He will also continue to be a staunch fan of Reserves and the special places they protect.

 “More than ever, it’s the voices of Reserve friends and advocates that will keep our elected representatives aware of the value of estuaries, wetlands, and clean water,” he says.

Photographs of Coos Bay flora and fauna taken by John Bragg.

Keary Howley comes to the Reserve after moving to the Coos Bay area with Heather, his wife of 27 years. Together, they’ve been enjoying cycling, hiking, camping, skiing, paddle boarding, backpacking, and gardening in their new state. “I’m excited to be part of the South Slough  Reserve team; it gives me a chance to apply my diverse GIS experience in a newto me!coastal environment and increase my knowledge,” he says.

Keary has a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s in geography from the University of New Mexico. He has worked in the GIS field for nearly 20 years in both private and public sectors and started a GIS program at New Mexico’s San Juan College, where he taught for three years.

Much of Keary’s work focuses on creating maps, collecting GPS data, and analyzing spatial data. He enjoys the variety of projects and problem solving. “With GIS there’s always a number of possible solutions to any question and figuring it out is half the fun,” says Keary.

Friends Help Young Scientists Launch Careers

Friends Help Young Scientists Launch Careers

The Friends or Oregon’s South Slough Reserve provide opportunities for young scientists like Kanoe Lizama (above) to get the experience they need to find jobs in environmental science. Photos courtesy Kanoe Lizama.

After Kanoelani (Kanoe) Lizama graduated from Colorado Mesa University with a degree in environmental science and technology, she was ready to put her education to work. When she started to look for a position, however, she found her degree was not enough for prospective employers who wanted candidates with relevant work experience. Then she discovered an internship opportunity sponsored by the Friends of South Slough Reserve.

“This position offered a range of hands on experience working directly with the Reserve’s research and monitoring staff, and so I applied without hesitation,” says Kanoe.

Kanoe became the 2018 System Wide Water Quality Monitoring Intern. She worked with South Slough Reserve staff Ali Helms and Adam DeMarzo on projects involving water quality, nutrients, and meteorological monitoring. She also assisted with the Reserve’s ocean acidification and Environmental DNA (eDNA) seining projects.


“The experience taught me useful skills for lab and field work, but the the biggest take away was understanding the impacts that estuaries such as South Slough face due to human and natural related causes, observes Kanoe. “We monitored native eelgrass, which has dramatically declined in the estuary over the past decade. There is a need for greater awareness in protecting natural resources in coastal areas.”

Kanoe had another big aha moment. Oregon is not only beautiful—it’s an interesting place to live and work.

“Being exposed to Oregon’s beautiful coastline and forests greatly influenced my recent move from Hawaii to Oregon,” she says. “This opportunity also allowed me to network with professionals in the environmental field and gave me a better understanding as to what their days look like—this helps me feel more comfortable as I continue to pursue this career.”

Friends also sponsored Real Time Kinetic/Geographic Information Systems Intern Alycia Lenzen, a graduate of Oregon State University in 2018. Alycia worked with Reserve staff Jenni Schmitt to collect marsh elevation data, conduct habitat mapping accuracy surveys, and establish benchmarks at restoration and monitoring sites.

South Slough Reserve staff and Friends are seeking funding for 2019 interns. Interested in helping young scientists launch their careers? Contact South Slough Reserve Public Involvement Coordinator Deborah Rudd: // 541.888.5558, ext. 158.

ReservesSouth Slough, Oregon