Know Your Tides

Know Your Tides

Check out the Know Your Tides campaign trailer here.

Along the coasts of New Jersey, residents and visitors are getting the message—you have more fun and stay safer when you Know Your Tides.

A partnership of the Jacques Cousteau Reserve and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, this social media campaign aims to raise awareness of tidal flooding risk by encouraging people to learn more about their local tides. The campaign launched in June, with funding from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and will run until September. 

“​​The diversity of our coast makes it complicated to communicate about flood risk in New Jersey,” says Vanessa Tropiano, coastal training program coordinator for the Reserve. “We hope the campaign will overcome that challenge through messages that integrate local experiences and culture across diverse coastal communities.”

The campaign team is using a mix of videos, infographics, and local photography to build awareness of sea level rise, tidal flooding, and locally relevant resources that people can use to prepare for future floods. These are shared on the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of campaign partners, which include dozens of informal education centers in coastal regions of the state (#TideSmart, #KnowYourTidesNJ).

The team created infographics to communicate key concepts related to sea level rise and tidal flooding.

“Partnering with informal education centers allows us to reach new audiences,” says Tropiano. “A pre-campaign survey of education center staff and their public audiences was used to inform the campaign, and afterward we’ll do a post-survey to gauge campaign effectiveness”

The team leveraged its new MyCoast New Jersey to create a home for the campaign, creating a potential model for other MyCoast states interested in running a similar campaign. Want to learn more? Contact Vanessa Tropiano for more information.

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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.

How to Talk About Climate Change During a Pandemic

How to Talk About Climate Change During a Pandemic

Emphasizing connections to the natural world is one way communities can integrate efforts to address climate change and manage the COVID-19 epidemic. Photo courtesy Narragansett Bay Reserve.

As the world faces down the challenges of the past year, one fact remains: we need to talk about climate change. Whether the conversation is between scientists and decision makers, educators and students, or even family members at the dinner table, how we talk about it has a huge impact on how our words are received. A new training from Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Reserve is helping coastal communities reckon with the climate change conversation in a way that’s constructive, even under the weight of other crises.

“Many people are still building their confidence to talk about climate change, and the pandemic didn’t help,” says Jen West, the Reserve’s coastal training program coordinator who developed the training with support from the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI). “This training is intended to help everyone adapt and respond to the unique demands of this moment by providing ways to maximize the positive outcomes of climate communications in a COVID-19 context.”

Through the NERRS national network, the Rhode Island-based training has been offered to communities and Reserve partners from the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. These events engaged hundreds of participants at more than 53 organizations, providing tools and ideas to help shape local educationand conversationaround climate change. One component of the training advice is specific to navigating these conversations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemican ongoing concern for many communities.

“This training was a great reminder that the language we use to discuss topics greatly impacts the way our audience receives the message; it provided tools for discussing climate change at a time when our communications have to be drastically modified,” says Taylor Ryan, an air quality specialist at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

“One idea that has really stuck with me is how the media is often pitting environmental ‘improvement’ against the COVID-19 crisis; for example, saying ‘air quality is better because less people are driving to work.’ As representatives of environmental agencies, and personal environmental stewards, we want to ensure the narrative does not create a divide between environmental and economic issues by using positive messaging toward both.”

COVID offers us an opportunity to highlight our connections to each other and the natural world, observes West. “It can be a way to help people understand why it’s important to take action at a community level. Any time we can align efforts to address COVID-19 with with those focused on climate change, we are helping to build that understanding and sense of empowerment,” she says.

The training uses a set of market-tested “frameworks” to give people effective, proven ways to shape the climate change conversation in ways that connect with the person they’re engaging. Certain metaphorical frames are effective for communicating complex concepts: for example, NNOCCI recommends explaining ocean acidification as an “osteoporosis of the sea.” Positive frames that emphasize protecting people and places and responsible stewardship work better to promote action than dire messages.

“We have to tell a story that’s not just doom and gloom, because we know that doesn’t work,” says West. “Hope promotes dialogue and action—now is the time to shift the national conversation about climate change to be more positive, civic-minded, and solutions-focused.”

Tips for How to Talk About Climate Change—Even During a Pandemic. Watch a recording from the Wells Reserve here.

Using more positive frames has resonated with many participants. “I’m redoing our forest ecology program for students in middle school and want to add a climate connection,” says Tracey Hall, an education coordinator for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. “I got some helpful ideas to connect the importance of forests, trees as a carbon sink and related steps people can do that take the gloom and doom out!”

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Reserve Data Tracks Climate Change Threats

Reserve Data Tracks Climate Change Threats

A water quality monitoring station in one of the estuaries monitored by the North Carolina Reserve. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Reserve.

In October 2018, Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas, causing $24 billion in damages and killing more than 50 people. But the dangers of the storm extended beyond the immediate wind, rain, and debris. Using data from the North Carolina Reserve, investigators tracked a tripling in infections of the deadly pathogen Vibrio vulnificus in the hurricane’s wake.

Data from the Reserve’s System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) showed that Florence’s heavy rains shifted the salinity of coastal waters into the ideal range for Vibrio, likely contributing to the spike in infection rate. Three North Carolinians died after exposure to Vibrio in the days following the storm. 

This graph shows the salinity ranges from a Reserve monitoring station near where Ron Phelps, a North Carolina man who died of Vibrio infection, was likely exposed in the days following Hurricane Florence. Credit: Elisabeth Gawthorp.

As oceans warm and storms grow harsher and more frequent, Vibrio infections are becoming increasingly common, even in areas they have never occurred before. In this article, Glenn Morris, an emerging pathogens expert at the University of Florida, calls Vibrio “an early warning system” for the kind of public-health crises that will keep arising from climate change.

Vibrio infections are quite climate sensitive,” said Morris. “Even a slight rise in temperatures can significantly boost their growth.”

Scientists call Vibriooften characterized as a “flesh-eating bacteria”a bellwether for climate change because it flourishes in warm brackish waters. V. vulnificus, the most deadly strain, kills one in every five people who contract it. Since 2007, South Carolina has seen a three-fold increase in Vibrio infections and North Carolina’s rate is 1.6 times greater. 

The North Carolina Reserve has been collecting standardized water quality and climate data on the coast since 2002. “The investigators approached us because we had some of the best data in the area,” said Byron Toothman, a monitoring technician at the Reserve. “The value of our data is that it stretches across many geographic regions, and it’s consistent in the way it is collected, processed, and handled.”

To assess public health risks driven by the impacts of climate change, high-quality, long-term environmental data is essential.The Reserve’s data not only supports science and research, but also natural resource management. The University of North Carolina Wilmington, for example, depends heavily on Reserve expertise for the management of their shellfish research hatchery life support system.

A sediment elevation table (SET) tracks the elevation of a marsh in the face of climate change-driven sea level rise.

The Reserve’s science and monitoring is complemented by a robust Coastal Training Program that provides tools, training, education, and support for local communities. Since Hurricane Florence, they have provided training on climate resilience for almost 400 local professionals, including real estate agents, marine contractors, engineers, and land managers. 

“The North Carolina Reserve seeks and values partnerships with organizations and communities in our local watersheds,” says Whitney Jenkins, the Reserve’s coastal training program coordinator. “By providing resources and training opportunities to improve coastal resilience to climate change impacts, we further the NCNERR’s mission while also meeting local needs.”


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Learning Guana Cultural History

Learning Guana Cultural History

A salt marsh in Florida’s GTM Reservea place rich in cultural as well as ecological history. Photo and story courtesy of Ellen Leroy-Reed, director of the Friends of the GTM Reserve, originally published in the Fall 2020 edition of the Estuary Examiner.

Looking out onto the peninsula, I see figures carrying baskets brimming with indigo cuttings. Small silhouettes bend to gather clippings, while taller ones heft bulky loads above them. I spot the disparate shape of structures amongst the verdure and inhale the tang of caustic dyes steeping within them. I hear both the soft murmurs and discordant shouts from distant voices, but cannot make out the words. Do I hear a song, or is it the tonal clippings of a spoken language I do not understand?

I am looking out at the Guana peninsula in the year 2020, but I am seeing it as it was in the year 1773. I am looking out at Grant’s Plantation and seeing its truth.

For nearly five years, I have worked as the executive director of the Friends of the GTM Reserve. Less than a handful of yards from my office window is the Guana Dam, location of the Florida Historical Marker for Governor Grant’s Plantation. It reads, in part:

“In 1768, James Grant (1720–1806) Governor of British East Florida from 1763–1773, established Grant’s Villa Plantation at the juncture of the Guana and North rivers. Enslaved Africans cleared the 1,450-acre tract of land, planted indigo seeds, and processed the plants into blue indigo dye.”

Until recently, my kinship to this story has been by way of a loose connection through my Caucasian heritage. My ancestors come to America by way of Ireland, Scotland, England, and assorted countries—just like so many of the U.S. population. It was in August of this year that the sign became a catalyst for me, and it had nothing to do with Governor Grant, Europe, or even indigo.

During the summer of 2020, I watched as issues of inequality were exposed in real-time. I sensed fear, frustration, and exhaustion among those close to me who had suffered under its oppressive weight. This unrest prompted difficult conversations as I learned about disparities I never knew existed. Even after spending the last two years working on the GTM for All initiative, I realized I had more to learn about inequality and more to do.

GTM for All is special to me. Helping to weave accessibility and inclusivity into the fabric of the Reserve has been one of my proudest accomplishments. Diversity of thought and diversity of perspective makes for a better outcome, and I believe with all my being that diversity of people is what makes for a better world. 

But for all the good work that has been done to create an inclusive space at the Reserve, had we done enough to cultivate a welcoming environment for underrepresented populations? According to a National Park Service survey in 2014, out of the 292.8 million visitors to its parks, only 22% identified as minorities. Our anecdotal knowledge of GTM visitation demographics would likely align with their figures.

We had work to do. If we wanted to forge a connection between the Reserve and underrepresented populations of visitors, we had to learn how to interpret GTM’s unique culture and history… which brings me back to Grant’s sign. What of the enslaved people who lived and worked on the Guana peninsula? What can we learn from history’s complexity? How can we connect through knowledge and understanding?

I pored through books, manuscripts, and photos, stopping on occasion to share some factoid I had discovered, usually with the frenzied zeal of a child retelling a story to a parent. There were letters with the names of men, women, and children who were brought to the peninsula by way of South Carolina and before that, the Transatlantic slave trade. Among them were members of the Gullah Geechee people, descended from West Africans. They brought with them expertise in rice and indigo farming, along with a rich heritage of art, language, cuisine, and expression. Looking at photos, I saw the faces of strong people who endured brutal conditions while creating a culture built on faith, family, and hope.

This is how I came to love the history of Guana, and how I came to view the landscape around me with a new perspective. I may not be able to see myself in the Gullah Geechee people, but I honor them. I see the richness in their arts and expression and honor their contributions and sacrifice. I see the complexity of prejudice in our past and honor the hope of equity for all in our future.


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.


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The Gullah-Geechee People and Folk Tales

The Gullah-Geechee People and Folk Tales

Photo and story courtesy Josephine Spearman, education coordinator at Florida’s Guana Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) Reserve. Originally published in The Estuary Examiner by the Friends of the GTM Reserve.

The Guana Peninsula is home to historical and cultural sites that tell the story of the land and its people. The most recent discovery is that the Gullah Geechee people were enslaved on the peninsula on Governor James Grant’s plantations. This connects the Guana Peninsula to the Gullah Geechee Corridor, which extends from Wilmington, North Carolina, south to St. John’s County, Florida.

Learning about the Gullah Geechee culture is a personal journey for me because it is part of my heritage. I grew up hearing my grandmother speak and tell stories in the language. She taught me about ethnobotany and natural medicine and shared her childhood experiences of living in a Gullah community. As an adult, I have finally begun to make connections from childhood memories to the rich Gullah Geechee culture. 

The Gullah Geechee people are descended from mainly West African tribes. They were brought to the southeastern United States to farm rice, indigo, and other crops. The terms “Gullah” and “Geechee” are used interchangeably and refer to their original ancestry in Africa. “Gullah” is said to be derived from “Gora ” or “Gola,” which were tribes living in Sierra Leone. “Geechee” is said to be derived from “Kissi” (pronounced Geezee), referring to a tribe living between Guinea and Liberia. The Gullah Geechee culture arose from close contact between many ethnic groups (West African, European, and Native American). The resulting unique language can be described as creole (a dialect from two or more languages). There is also a rich heritage of art, religion, music, and food. 

The Old Plantation. Artist: John Rose. Possibly between 1785-1795.

Gullah Geechee Storytelling 

Storytelling is a tradition among the Gullah Geechee people. Many stories (or folktales) have animals with human personalities as protagonists and center around a moral principle or learning experience. We know rabbits do not keep gardens or get advice from other animals. It helps make the characters more relatable and communicates the theme.

I would like to honor the tradition of storytelling with a folktale of my own, featuring animals and themes from the Guana Peninsula. This story focuses on the destructiveness of invasive species (such as feral hogs), the benefits of native plants, and the need for balance within ecosystems

Gullah Geechee Words

Gullah Geechee words often sound like the word they translate to in English, even if they are not spelled the same way. Some words are similar to Germanic Languages in that the sounds of v’s and w’s are switched.

  • Ain cyear – I don’t care, don’t care
  • Cyan’ – can’t
  • Don’gi – Don’t give
  • Ent wut – isn’t worth/ain’t worth
  • Gaya’d’n – Garden
  • Wine – going to, going
  • Hunnuh – you
  • In de ‘good – in the woods (forest)
  • Leebe – leave
  • Nyam – eat, eats, eating, ate
  • Tep – step
  • Wods – words

A Folktale: Rabbit and Wil’ Hog

Down in the forest by the ocean, all the animals lived in a big community. It was like a big family, where most animals worked together to make a good place to live.

Mouse had a very big family. They made sure there was the right amount of plants in the community; not too few and not too many. Too many plants would be a bad thing, tangling animals and stopping them from reaching their food. Too few plants were bad also because many animals would starve. Mouse’s family was very good at taking care of the extra plants by eating them. In fact, sometimes they were too good at it. That was where Indigo Snake stepped in.

Indigo’s job was to chase Mouse and her family away when they ate too many plants. Indigo helped to keep things balanced.

Rabbit had a big family as well. She was very skilled in growing things and had a lovely garden. She would toil and plant, and water, and fertilize, so that her beautiful garden could feed many of the animals.

Gopher Tortoise, slow as he was, was a good builder. In fact, he built the biggest and best burrows in the forest. Everybody wanted to stay, and it was safe! Not even the wildfires could touch the animals when they went down into Gopher Tortoise’s burrows. 

Most of the animals worked together in harmony — except Wil’ Hog. He didn’t work well with anyone. Wil’ Hog did not like to work, he did not like to share, and he took whatever he pleased. In fact, every year, while Rabbit tended to her garden (which everybody loved because she grew the best vegetables and liked to share), Wil’ Hog stomped through and ate everything in sight. He never asked permission and usually left a nasty muddy mess.

One day, Rabbit was ready to harvest her best vegetables yet. She came with her basket in hand, only to find Wil’ Hog had marched into her garden again. This time he had rooted up every single vegetable. He had eaten the melons, the okra, the yams, and the turnips. Wil’ Hog ate everything! All that was left of Rabbit’s garden was a muddy wallow.

“Wil’ Hog!” she squeaked indignantly, “Hunnah tek wuh b’long to me and eb’rybody! All my gaya’d’n is gwine, hunnuh t’ief!” 

Rabbit’s whiskers twitched this way and that. She was very very mad! She had a big family to feed and Wil’ Hog had eaten everything she, her children, and all the other animals were going to need for the rest of the season.

Wil’ Hog looked up with a mouth full of her vegetables. “Ain cyear.”

Rabbit bristled. “We wu’k hard for we’self, and hunnuh fuhr’ebbuh tek’way an don’gi!” They all worked hard and selfish Hog just took and took and never gave back.

He swallowed the last of her turnips and looked past Rabbit for more. “Ain cyear.” Clearly Wil’ Hog, an animal of very few words, didn’t care. 

Rabbit furiously hopped away to get advice from Gopher Tortoise who was digging another burrow. “Gopher, mek Wil’ Hog leebe. He tek eb’ ry ’t’ing. My gaya ’d’ n ent wut’ nutt’ n ’ fo nobody in de wood.” She was still angry, but now she was sad too. Rabbit worked so very hard to make a garden that could feed all the animals and now it was worthless, because Hog ate it all.

Gopher Tortoise stilled, “Well, Will Hog wey tummuch bigguh den me. ‘E gwine tep on my shell an bruk’ em. Puhaps hunnuh moobe hunnuh gaya ’d’ n way an change de wegitubbles, den Wil’ Hog cyan ‘ ketch.” It wasn ‘t that Gopher Tortoise didn ‘t want to help, Wil’ Hog was just too big and could break his shell. He couldn ‘t fight, but maybe Gopher Tortoise could help Rabbit with advice instead. He slowly turned his head and paused again. “Puhaps Indigo Snake got wods tu.”

Rabbit thanked Gopher Tortoise and hopped away. She felt a little better. She could move her garden and change the vegetables she planted there. Maybe then Wil’ Hog wouldn’t want to eat them. She was feeling much more thoughtful than before. Getting mad or sad for too long would not help but thinking would. Even so, Indigo might have some advice too.

Rabbit found Indigo Snake sunning herself on a rock. “Indigo, Hog dun nyam eb’ ry ’t’ing. Wuh gwine do fuh muh chirren? Cyan ’ hunnuh mek Hog leebe, luk hunnuh do w ’ enebbuh Mouse nyam tummuch?” Rabbit explained again. Wasn’t there anything Indigo could do? What if she chased Hog away like when Mouse ate too much?

Indigo looked thoughtful. “Hmm, “Wil’ Hog tummuch bigguh den me. He gwine tep on my head and bruk’ em. Puhaps hunnuh mek bigguh gaya ’d’ n.” Wil’ Hog was too big and dangerous for Indigo also, but maybe, Rabbit could plant more than Hog could eat; then there would still be enough for everyone. Rabbit thanked Indigo Snake and hopped away to start replanting. She would use both Gopher Tortoise’s and Indigo Snake’s advice.

Rabbit began planting different seeds from those in her old garden. No more yams, turnips, melons, or okra. She planted things Wil’ Hog wouldn’t notice as much like wild grapes, hickory nuts, wild greens, blackberries, and wild plums. She planted anywhere and everywhere seeds would grow. She was going to make the biggest garden she could. In fact, Rabbit made the entire forest into a garden. Rabbit couldn’t fight Wil’ Hog face to face, but she used other ways to beat him. To this day, Wil’ Hog is destructive, selfish, and “ain cyear,” however, Rabbit and the other animals now have many more places where they can find food.


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.


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