New Tech Boldly Goes…

New Tech Boldly Goes…

South Slough Reserve Manager Bree Yednock (left) and project lead Alison Watts (right) at the South Slough Reserve, where they are testing the use of eDNA as an affordable tool for many natural management issues.

Ever wondered what it would be like to use the tricorder from Star Trek? To scan an environment and learn what kinds of creatures live there? Reserve scientists are partnering with genetics researchers to refine a technology that feels like science fiction, but provides real world capacity to detect rare or invasive species more affordably, and with less impact, than with traditional methods.

Reserves in Maine, New Hampshire, and Oregon are working with a research team at the University of New Hampshire to develop eDNA-based monitoring protocols that can be used for a range of natural resource management issues—from monitoring American eel migration in New England to invasive crab detection in the Pacific Northwest. 

Environmental DNA (or eDNA) comes from genetic material that animals shed through scales, shells, fur, feces, fragments of tissue, and more. To extract this DNA from the environment, scientists take a simple water or sediment sample and send it to the lab for a low-cost analysis. This approach could dramatically change the way we survey local streams, rivers, and estuaries for species that are invasive, rare, or difficult to track by traditional monitoring methods. 

UNH researcher and project lead Alison Watts takes water samples for eDNA analysis with Wells Reserve Researcher Coordinator Jason Goldstein. Environmental DNA comes from the residual genetic material animals naturally leave behind in their environment.

Through a process called “metabarcoding,” eDNA techniques can identify dozens of species to get a more comprehensive picture of the ecosystem. The wealth of information that eDNA provides can inform resource management decisions without the need to capture live animals or plants.

“Our Reserve is excited to explore the possibilities of this novel technology for early detection of invasive crabs and seaweeds, as well as to understand how climate change can affect our biological communities,” says Chris Peter, research coordinator at Great Bay Reserve in New Hampshire.

By testing this approach at Reserves with different research questions, management concerns, and biological communities, the research team has been able to assess the potential of this tool for widespread and diverse use.

“The NERRS provides a network of sites where scientists collect information on estuaries using standardized methods that have been developed by the system partners,” says UNH researcher and project lead Alison Watts. “By collaborating with multiple Reserves we are able to develop and test our methods at different types of sites, and gather input on how best to develop procedures that could be adopted at additional sites in the NERRS and beyond.”

eDNA was recently featured in National Geographic as one of the most exciting recent developments in marine science, and it soon be coming to an estuary near you!

This project was funded by the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative, which supports collaborative research that addresses coastal management problems important to reserves and their communities. For more information about this project >



Several extracted DNA samples in the lab ready for analysis. When analyzed, these samples can tell researchers what kinds of species are living in a system, without having to capture and count live animals. This project was funded by the NERRS Science Collaborative.

Thank You, Lobsters!

Thank You, Lobsters!

 Photos courtesy Wells Reserve.

From our Wells Reserve in southern Maine come some fighting words: Is there anything better than steamed American lobster served with drawn butter, Maine-grown corn on the cob, Maine potatoes, and Maine blueberry pie?

While our colleagues at Reserves known for providing habitat for white shrimp or cojo salmon might take issue with that claim, no one can dispute that lobsters are VIP residents of Maine’s estuaries.

Once so plentiful, they were known as the ‘poor man’s chicken,’ lobsters have become a luxury menu item. They represent the largest fishery in Maine and one of the most successful commercial fisheries in the world, generating about $500 million per year and feeding Maine’s $9 billion tourism industry. Catching, processing, and serving Maine lobster support thousands of Maine jobs.


These are just a few of the reasons Reserve staff appreciate lobster and work so hard to conduct research, education, and conservation programs to understand and protect this important crustacean and its estuary habitats. Healthy estuaries, like those protected by the Wells Reserve, create a safe haven for lobsters to forage and grow.

Thank you, Lobster! Your abundance in the waters of Maine inspires us to work harder to meet the challenges of 2019. 

Have you had an encounter with lobster or another critter at one of our Reserves? We’d love to hear about it! Share your Reserve story.


Wells Reserve Executive Directpr Paul Dest (center) serves up a Maine lobster feast for lucky NERRA auction winners Gale Peek from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and her husband John.

Who Gets the Credit?

Who Gets the Credit?

Story and photos courtesy Sue Bickford…or her drone? You decide!

Last summer, I was flying a drone project for a new trail we were creating in Wells Harbor. I loaded an automated flight plan so the drone could take pictures along a defined route. Then I could stitch these photos together.

Several hundred pictures were automatically taken by the drone. When I went to check them for quality, I found some absolutely stunning images. One was even featured in an international drone magazine!

The question is: who gets the photo credit? Me or the drone? Let Sue know!

Every Reserve is special. And everyone has a Reserve story to share. Why do you care about your Reserve? How has it made a difference in your life? Have a few minutes today? We want to hear your story.

Estuaries Are For Everyone

Estuaries Are For Everyone

The New England team for “Watershed Stewardship in Action: Deaf Students on the Estuary” fingerspells ‘estuary’. From left: Todd Czubek, Boston University; Suzanne Kahn, Wells Reserve; Jeanne Reis, The Learning Center; Joan Muller, Waquoit Bay Reserve; Maureen Dewire, Narragansett Bay Reserve; and Caryn Beiter, Wells Reserve.

Watching a heron hunt, walking along a golden marsh, fishing on a misty morning—little compares to the sense of wonder we get from being on the coast. For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we are celebrating some of the advances Reserves have made to make estuaries part of everyone’s coastal experience.

Finding the Right Words: Before 2018, American Sign Language (ASL) had no signs for words like “estuary,” or “watershed.” For people with hearing loss, this creates a barrier to experiencing and learning about the coast. That’s all changing, thanks to educators at our New England Reserves and their partners. Teachers and interpreters for people with hearing loss now have access to ASL coastal terms and instructional videos through the Teachers on the Estuary curriculum at the Wells, Waquoit Bay, and Narragansett Bay Reserves. Read more in the The Wrack from our Wells Reserve in Maine.

Making Trails More Accessible: California’s Elkhorn Slough Reserve has a new ADA-compliant trail welcomes visitors of all physical abilities, and features a flat, gentle path through a variety of habitats.

Improved Water Access: In Mississippi, the Grand Bay Reserve is outfitting their new education boat to accommodate wheelchairs. An ADA-accessible kayak launch is also in the works. The Reserve widened their Savannah Trail boardwalk and installed rails, boosting safety and helping wheelchair-bound visitors view more habitat.

Therapeutic Horse Riding: Access Adventure at Rush Ranch provides therapeutic horse riding in the San Francisco Bay Reserve for people living with mobility challenges, special needs children, the elderly, and injured veterans.

Weathering A Storm “Most Challenging”

Weathering A Storm “Most Challenging”

“We were, pun intended, in over our heads, but the Wells Reserve staff helped us read the data and predict when the high waters were going to recede so we could get our equipment back into affected areas,” says Wells Fire Chief Vetre. Photo courtesy Peter Hough, Riptides Gift Shop.
January’s “bomb cyclone” hit many of our East Coast Reserves hard. As Wells Reserve Director Paul Dest noted, “In my 17 years at the reserve, this was the most challenging winter storm.”

For those who don’t live in Maine, that’s what you call Yankee understatement. Storm surge on top of a King Tide led to significant flooding in southern Maine’s coastal towns. The Wells Reserve’s monitoring station logged near record tidal heights of 13.4 feet—including two feet of storm surge—that remained almost two hours past the predicted high tide.

According to Wells System Wide Monitoring Program specialist Jeremy Miller, “Barometric pressure really crashed out during this one, reaching 28.9” of mercury and wind gusts near 40 mph—a low of pressure usually associated with Category 3 and 4 hurricanes!”

This chart plots the bomb cyclone’s unceasing wind (blue) against plummeting barometric pressure (brown).
During the January 4th blizzard, Miller stayed on the phone with local Wells Fire Chief Wayne Vetre to help him and other members of the Wells Emergency Management Authority (EMA) track storm conditions to better forecast the substantial flooding.
On this tidal graph, the blue line is “predicted tide” and the red line was actual water levels.
“We were, pun intended, in over our heads with the tide prediction, but the Wells Reserve staff helped us read the data and predict when the high waters were going to recede so we could get our equipment back into affected areas,” said Wells Fire Chief Vetre. “It worked out so well—their monitoring and expertise and predictive ability have just been so helpful in our emergency management.”

As Maine sea levels rise and the state experiences more extreme weather events like this one, the Wells Reserve is also helping beach-based businesses plan for the future. These businesses are a powerful economic engine for Maine, but proprietors are often unprepared for storm surge and coastal flooding.

The Wells Reserve’s Coastal Training Program is transferring the Gulf of Mexico’s Tourism Resilience Index to Southern Maine to help coastal businesses assess their ability to maintain operations during and after a disaster.

You can catch Annie Cox’s presentation about this important work at this year’s Social Coast. And, to appreciate how the different parts of a reserve work together to weather a storm with panache, read Scott Richardson’s piece in The Wrack. You may want to subscribe to the Wells Reserve’s excellent newsletter while you’re at it!

Funds & Love from Maine to Puerto Rico & Texas

Funds & Love from Maine to Puerto Rico & Texas

Post Harvey damage in Texas. Photo courtesy of Jace Tunnell.
There is something about family and friends—when you get knocked down they are there to help lift you back up. That’s just what Wells Reserve is doing for two members of our NERRS family. The nonprofit partner of our Wells reserve in Maine, the Laudholm Trust, is sending $1,500 to help our Texas and Puerto Rico reserves recover and rebuild. They collected the funds from ticket proceeds from the recent Laudholm Nature Crafts Festival. More than 4,000 visitors attended the festival, with perfect weather spurring record revenues for the 30th annual fundraising event.

“These are one-time, emergency relief donations sent in response to the unprecedented and powerful storms that directly hit our sister reserves,” said Jessica Gribbon Joyce, chair of the Laudholm Trust board. “The 29 estuarine reserves across the country are a tight-knit family, so we were heartbroken to see the devastation in Texas and Puerto Rico. We wanted to help our friends and colleagues get back to full capacity as soon as possible.”

Our NERRS family is resilient and strong, and with help from friends like these, we have no doubt our reserves will recover and rebuild to be stronger than ever.

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