Growing to Meet the Climate Challenge

Growing to Meet the Climate Challenge

Our soon to be 30th Reserve in Connecticut Reserve will help protect the state’s greatest natural resource.

As the federal government strives to slow climate change by conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030, efforts to expand the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) could not be more timely. The addition of three new Reserves in Connecticut, Louisiana, and Wisconsin will build on the 1.3+ million acres Reserves currently help protect, much of which is publicly accessible. It also will grow the network of NERRS programs that rely on the principles of locally-led conservation, as described in a recent report to the National Climate Task Force.

“Saving land is critical, but putting management in place to care for it in perpetuity is just as important,” observes Rebecca Roth, executive director of the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association (NERRA). “I was happy to see the report call out NERRS expansion—the creation of new Reserves by Congress. Reserves not only support the administration’s goals for conservation, they are the gold star for how it should be done.”

A Growing National Estuarine Research Reserve System


In addition to the Reserves in the designation process, a request has been submitted to NOAA to consider a Reserve in the U.S. Virgin Islands. New Reserves will expand the NERRS network of living laboratories, across which scientists and practitioners collaborate with stakeholders to test and share innovative approaches to habitat restoration and management. They will widen and deepen the impact of education and coastal training programs designed to meet local and regional needs, including those of tribal nations.

“When a Reserve is established, it brings with it a national community of practice, dedicated to working collaboratively to evolve tools and strategies  to advance estuarine  science, monitoring, stewardship, education, and training,” says Roth. “This approach creates tangible economic benefits for states and communities, and promotes the equitable distribution of the benefits that Reserves provide.

#30 - Connecticut

The Connecticut Reserve will contribute science and monitoring to support management strategies for a healthy and productive Long Island Sound, which contributes $7 billion annually to the regional economy.

Alongside research into how habitats and species have changed in response to centuries of development in the Sound, the Reserve will provide a unique understanding of the interplay of big river systems and receiving waters. It also will deepen our collective knowledge of the connection between oysters, eelgrass, and water quality, and protect critical habitats for hundreds of species of migratory birds and fish, including the endangered Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon.


Home to diverse natural resources of commercial, cultural, and economic importance, Louisiana faces some of the greatest challenges of any coastal state in terms of land loss, flooding, hurricanes, and sea level rise. A Reserve would help protect the health of the Louisiana Delta, while providing targeted science, monitoring, education, and outreach to support the state, including its underserved communities, in being more self-reliant in the face of these challenges.

“This could be the highest and best use for the port ever,” said South Tangipahoa Port Commissioner Bill Joubert, adding that regardless of where the Reserve is placed, it’s a win for Louisiana and the port.

Currently, three regions are under consideration for designation, and the search committee anticipates one site will be selected and submitted to NOAA for approval by the end of 2021. Louisiana is currently the only coastal state in the U.S. without at least one Reserve. Learn more about their selection process.


For centuries, Green Baythe world’s largest freshwater estuaryhas been vital to how Northeast Wisconsin lives, works, and plays. To help preserve the Bay for future generations, supporters are pushing to designate it as a Reserve. 

Although the Bay of Green Bay is slowly bouncing back after generations of abuse that degraded water quality and habitat, much work remains. Supporters of the Bay hope that a Reserve will spur further research and identify new solutions to existing and emerging problems.

Site selection is currently underway for the Green Bay Reserve and is expected to complete by the end of 2022. Learn more about what’s happening with this Reserve.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) submitted a letter of interest in establishing a Reserve in December 2019. NOAA found the request compelling, but did not have the capacity to provide funds to engage in the site selection process at that time; they will reconsider the request in January 2022.

The Territory’s tropical estuaries are experiencing rapid changes as the climate shifts. In the wake of extreme storms, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria, USVI partners are studying how to support the resilience of these natural systems, and the surrounding communities, as they recover from large disturbances. They also are exploring how to diversify the Territory’s economy and invest in greater food security, including fishing and aquaculture.

Given the majority-minority population (76% African-American, 17% Hispanic and Latino), a Reserve in the USVI will increase diversity, equity and inclusion within the NERRS and be a valuable addition to the the System’s understanding of how to engage different communities—especially those from underserved and historically underrepresented groups in the STEM fields—in coastal science and coastal decision-making.

Smart Sensors, Wise Decisions

Smart Sensors, Wise Decisions

LimnoTech and Ohio Department of Natural Resources staff deploy inexpensive water quality sensors alongside monitoring systems at the Old Woman Creek Reserve.

Technology and circuits might make new water quality sensors “smart,” but it takes decades of time-trusted data to make them “wise.” A new project in the Lake Erie basin is demonstrating the viability of real-time, inexpensive sensor technology—the same kind found in your dishwasher or cell phone—by comparing it to long-term standardized data collected through Ohio’s Old Woman Creek Reserve’s System-wide Monitoring Program.

“We are thrilled to be working with the Reserve on this project,” says Bryan Stubbs, executive director of the Cleveland Water Alliance. “Their gold-standard monitoring and data create a baseline so we can vet new technologies against validated, accepted national standards.”

The sensors could save the state’s Department of Natural Resources significant time and money, allowing them to collect reliable data at roughly 10% the cost of legacy sensors. The abundance of new, real-time, remotely-accessible data will support science, research, and land management decisions in the Lake Erie basin. 

Improving water quality is a statewide goal as laid out in Governor Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio initiative, which seeks to support the health and safety of the Ohioans who live, work, and play on the water. Effective water quality monitoring is integral to this goal and Northeast Ohio’s burgeoning “blue economy.” Water-related industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in Cuyahoga County, more so than aerospace, advanced manufacturing, energy, and biohealth.

“We know that investing in the health of our lakes, creeks, and rivers is investing in our local economy—be that through tourism, sport fishing, research and innovation, or talent and job development,” says Stubbs. “The Smart Sensor project will have the ability to assess our return on investment in freshwater resources and help build the growing water sector in Northeast Ohio.”

“We know that investing in the health of our lakes, creeks, and rivers is investing in our local economy—be that through tourism, sport fishing, research and innovation, or talent and job development,” says Stubbs. “The Smart Sensor project will have the ability to assess our return on investment in freshwater resources and help build the growing water sector in Northeast Ohio.”

That kind of impact requires people from all sectors to work together. The project was born out of partnership between the Old Woman Creek Reserve, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Cleveland Water Alliance, and LimnoTech. 

“What the Reserve brings to this partnership is our long-term historical dataset with known reliability and quality,” says Dr. Janice Kerns. “Our role is and always has been to be a tool for others. Our research, education, and training programs make us a resource. We provide the foundation for others to innovate and develop new technologies and new resources.”

“When it comes to water, more information is better,” adds Kerns. “And wetlands specifically are so diverse. No two are the same. So for us to fully understand their dynamics, we need widespread monitoring. Smart sensors can help us do that.”

Restoring land, food, and people at Heʻeia

Restoring land, food, and people at Heʻeia

Freshly-harvested taro (Kalo, Colocasia esculenta) being cut in preparation for cooking. Cultivation of taro is a keystone element of Hawaiian social-ecological systems. Photo Credit – Sean Marrs

250 years ago in the Hawaiian islands, Indigenous resource management practices sustainably supported a population of more than a million people. Within this context, native habitats and biodiversity co-prospered with a thriving human community. Today, to feed roughly the same number of people, Hawai’i imports 90% of its food and has experienced significant loss of native species, habitat, and coral. The Heʻeia Reserve is combining Indigenous and conventional science to restore lands to help solve these problems.

The Reserve works with its community-based co-management partners to restore and manage  Indigenous wetland agro-ecology systems (loʻi kalo) and associated aquaculture systems (loko iʻa). The systems are cultivated by lineal descendants and other local families, which builds cultural identity, connection to place, and food self-sufficiency. Early findings show this approach is successfully restoring habitat for native plants and animals. It also contributes to Hawaiʻi’s sustainability goals, which include doubling food production in 20 years, protecting watersheds and ecosystems, and facilitating community-based management. 

“Ancient Hawaiians figured out how to manage wetlands to increase their ecosystem services—specifically food production, water filtration, and aquifer recharge,” says Dr. Kawika Winter, manager of the He’eia Reserve. “They did this through a resource management approach we call ‘ecomimicry,’ whereby ecosystem processes were managed to support human populations within them.”

An endangered Hawaiian Stilt (ʻAeʻo, Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) foraging in a wetland agro-ecosystem (loʻi) within the Reserve. Photo credit – Sean Marrs.

Just as the Hawaiians of old, contemporary communities use ecomimicry to restore habitats for native fish, insects, plants, and birds, including the endangered Hawaiian stilt, while restoring Indigenous food systems. Food security has become a big issue during the pandemic, and the approaches at Heʻeia are addressing that issue as well. In addition, current estimates suggest that if the family volunteer farming program goes to scale, it could increase returns to the state’s economy by $2 million. 

“The place that we’re working at becomes more abundant and healthier and restored,” says a participant in the program. “The thriving factor increases as we work not only for my own family, but for the place.”

The partnerships that support this work extend beyond the Hawai’i throughout the Reserve System and NOAA, according to Winter.

“Standardized water-quality monitoring is foundational to the NERRS entire research program, and that’s what our community wants us to do,” says Winter. “Beyond that, we are trying to develop a career pipeline for local students.  The various fellowship and internship opportunities within NOAA allow us to open the door to local students for some of the best professional development opportunities around.”

“I’ve been involved in conservation my entire life, and professionally for the last 15 years. I’ve never witnessed such strong community support for conservation work,” he adds. “The level of support we have is the envy of conservation efforts elsewhere, and I’m really proud that our community truly appreciates the work we’re doing.”

Old Woman Creek Is 40 Years Young

Old Woman Creek Is 40 Years Young

Join us in celebrating our Old Woman Creek Reserve’s 40 years of conservation, education, and research on Ohio’s Lake Erie.

Established in 1980, the 573-acre Reserve protects one of Ohio’s best remaining examples of natural estuary. More than 300 species of birds use the Reserve as habitat, including bald eagles. For the first time this year, great blue herons started a heronry in the wetland, and the first chicks are now fledging. The Eastern Box Turtle—Ohio’s only terrestrial turtle species—also calls the Reserve home. 

The Old Woman Creek Reserve works on behalf of the communities that surround Lake Erie. Many community members enjoy recreational activities like paddling and hiking at the Reserve. They also participate in Reserve programs designed to protect the estuary, including workshops focused on reducing plastic pollution and volunteer efforts to remove invasive species.

“In the future, we look forward to bringing more people to the coastal wetlands to learn about science, stewardship, and what Lake Erie’s backyard should look like,” says Jennifer Bucheit, the Reserve’s education coordinator. “We have a chance to shape the future of Lake Erie, and our goal is to introduce as many people as we can to the wonders of living near a Great Lake.”

After forty years of watching Old Woman Creek lead the way on clean water, healthy habitat, and climate resilience in Ohio, we can’t wait to see what the next forty look like! 

To keep up with happenings at our Ohio Reserve, follow their Friends group on Facebook.


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Talk NERRdy to Me: Kari St. Laurent

Talk NERRdy to Me: Kari St. Laurent

Apparently being a NERRd does not skip a generation: Kari with a recent addition to the NERRd family, Canna.

Talk NERRdy to Me is a column about leaders and luminaries from across our 29 reserves. This month, NERRA’s Maine correspondent, Nik Charov chatted with Kari St. Laurent, Research Coordinator at the Delaware Reserve and natural-born NERRd. (Interview edited for length and general appropriateness.)

Nik: Where ya from?

Kari: Just outside of Boston. Go Patriots!

Nik: What’s it like to be on an enormous bandwagon?

Kari: Just winning, constant winning.

Nik: How did you first get to the ocean?

Kari: Cape Cod was a rite of passage. My first-grade field trip was to visit a tidal pool. I was eight-years-old when I knew I wanted to be an ocean scientist. I wanted to figure out why the ocean was the way it was. 

Nik: Vast and terrifying?

Kari: Salty and full of invisible life.

Nik: Oh. Were your parents scientists?

Kari: Absolutely not. I’m the only scientist in my family, the only one into science; that makes Thanksgiving a real treat. No one understands me.

Nik: It’s great you’re in the NERRs community now, where science is all we understand!

Kari: I love it!

Nik: You stayed in the Northeast for school—nine years in Rhode Island?

Kari: Yes, and the Narragansett Bay NERR saved my life once. I fell into an oyster pond out there around New Year’s Day and got really cold. I took shelter [at the Reserve] and some wonderful soul who I don’t know gave me hot chocolate and I warmed up. It was wonderful on that remote island. 

Nik: You survived Prudence! And then you did a post-doc at University of Maryland?

Kari: Yep. I moved when my husband got a job with the National Weather Service.

Nik: You’re an oceanographer and he’s a meteorologist? And now you have a five-month-old daughter, Canna. Are you selectively breeding for climate science? Is that an effective adaptation strategy? 

Kari: I really hope so. I will love her no matter what she chooses, but she’s already having science thrown at her. Nature and climate will be part of daily conversations over the dinner table.

Nik: My kids love that. They’re completely depressed. Besides having a climate super-child, what are other research directions you’re going in?

Kari: I’m actively working on black and blue carbon in DNERR’s tidal wetlands area. In the air, black carbon is a pollutant, but on land, it’s really effective at binding organic pollutants. 

Nik: Like charcoal?

Kari: Yes, exactly! For lack of a better term, it’s the black pieces in your Britta filter. It makes the water more pure. 

Nik: NERRA will have to call Britta for a sponsorship!

Kari: Yeah, Britta filters of the marsh! I’ve also been working with the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Acidification Network on ocean acidification monitoring and research. DNERR is starting to look at PCB concentrations in our marsh and to look at rope mussels and fiddler crabs to detect any PCBs. I’m also immersed in the world of microplastics. 

Nik: That’s a lot of pollution work… 

Kari: It’s my comfort zone. Pollution is in every system; the next steps are how to best mitigate or understand it. We have Superfund sites in our watershed, nutrient pollution, lots of urban development. We are definitely in an area that is ripe to study a whole plethora of pollutions.

Nik: What’s the future hold for the Delaware Bay? Worse or better?

Kari: I want to say we’ve been getting better. We’re just starting to get an understanding of the complex mix of chemicals in these systems. I’m hoping to set up all the questions that someone like my daughter will have to answer.

Nik: Best part of your job?

Kari: We never do science just for the sake of science. We do it to apply and make recommendations for how to best manage an area. I feel like my job has meaning at the end of the day.

Nik: You’re a big science communicator. Favorite science word? Mine’s hypoxia.

Kari: Good one. I’m a big nerd: I like knowing the Latin and Greek meanings behind things. If I had to pick a favorite, it’s probably chemosynthesis.

Nik: Fresh or salty?

Kari: Brackish.

Nik: CORRECT! Favorite animal?

Kari: I love cats. 

Nik: Cats are not an estuarine creature. Your state agency job title is Environmental Scientist V. Is that because the previous four versions malfunctioned and attempted to murder their human overlords?

Kari: Could be. I’d never know. 

Nik: Do you train as a runner so much because you’re afraid of tsunamis?

Kari: I never thought of that as an ancillary benefit. I run because I like to think a lot; the majority of the time I’m running I’m planning new research projects. 

Nik: What’s next and exciting for your Reserve? 

Kari: We’re starting to update our management plan, so that’s all great and fun.

Nik: No one has ever answered that. That’s going to make so many people at NOAA happy.

Credit For Going Green

Credit For Going Green

The Great Bay Reserve teamed up with the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center to help communities use buffer lands to meet water quality regulations. Photo courtesy of Emily Lord.

It is a truth universally acknowledged—many things are better with buffers. These areas of natural land around wetlands and water bodies keep water clean, provide habitat for wildlife, control erosion, reduce flooding, and much more. However, until now there has not been a way for New Hampshire communities to meet water quality regulations by restoring or maintaining buffers.

In response, the Great Bay Reserve teamed up with the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center and other New England Reserves to meet this need. The outcome? Communities can look forward to getting regulatory credit for “going green” by using restored or constructed buffers as a water quality best management practice (BMP).

“We knew our communities valued buffers for different reasons, but they were not able to quantify those benefits in ways that would meet state regulatory requirements, which are focused on water quality, ” says Cory Riley, manager of the Great Bay Reserve. “They couldn’t consider buffers in the same way as ‘grey’ infrastructure BMPs. They needed incentives and a credible method to do so.”

The challenge was existing local science and data, which could not conclusively support recommendations for how to quantify a buffer’s ability to reduce pollution. Fortunately, the team had a mentor and a solid case study to show how this gap could be overcome.

“The Chesapeake Stormwater Network and their partners had faced a similar problem on Chesapeake Bay,” says Dr. James Houle from the UNH Stormwater Center. “They developed a weight of evidence approach to working with an expert panel to review existing literature and make science-based recommendations for the crediting of green infrastructure, and other pollution reducing solutions.”

Buffers around wetlands and water bodies keep water clean, provide habitat for wildlife, control erosion, reduce flooding, and much more. Photo courtesy of Emily Lord.

With a transfer grant from the NERRS Science Collaborative, the New Hampshire team ripped a page from the Chesapeake team’s book. They convened a panel of experts who were able to generate science-based recommendations for calculating the pollutant removal rate of restored or constructed buffers in development, redevelopment, restoration projects, and others involving land use change.

“The notion of keeping track of the “credits and debits” of nutrient pollution has never been more critical as the state and local communities look to improve water quality,” says Ted Diers, director of the Watershed Management Bureau at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. “These curves are a step forward and fill a gap in our knowledge. I also think that this effort will help to articulate the importance of natural and restored buffers.”

With the input of an advisory committee that engaged municipal staff, civil engineers, regulatory officials, technical assistance providers, and coastal training coordinators from the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine Reserves, the Going Green team is sharing these results throughout the region. 

“These pollutant reduction curves should help expand and enhance recognition of the essential functions that buffers provide for watershed health and good water quality in New England,” says Mark Voorhees, environmental engineer, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, region 1. “They provide water resource managers with a starting point for including credible estimates of pollutant removals for buffers as part of the full suite of management practices needed to achieve watershed pollutant reduction goals.”

The New Hampshire team also synthesized their experience with an expert panel process for other groups working at the interface of science and management to collaborate with experts to develop timely, science-based solutions to coastal environmental problems.




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