Keeping Watch

Reserves keep watch on our changing coasts through nationally standardized programs that monitor local changes in weather, water quality, and habitats. This capacity for long-term monitoring across a national system allows Reserves to support community-scale decisions, inform national science and policy, and educate the next generation of coastal management professionals. 

Community leaders, scientists, educators, business owners, and others use Reserve data to plan for climate change, respond to disasters, sustain local industries, develop curricula and much more. Over time, the Reserve approach to monitoring has set a standard for high quality data that communities trust—providing a model for  coastal science and monitoring programs around the country.

Water Quality & Weather

The Reserves’ System-wide Monitoring Program has tracked short-term changes and long-term trends in weather and water quality conditions since 1995. Since then, Reserves have assembled a unique national dataset that is used to study water quality trends, support scientific research, enhance public understanding of estuaries, and promote educated management decisions and regulations. After extensive quality assurance and quality control, this data is available from the Centralized Data Management Office.

Informed communities are resilient communities. Now, more than ever, communities need continuous, high quality data to help them plan for rising sea levels, drought, flooding, harmful algal blooms, and other hazards.

Around the coastal U.S., Reserves manage 295 weather and water quality station stations, most of which collect data every 15 minutes, seven days a week. 47M+ data points annually help coastal communities address hazardous spills, shellfish industry operations, storm damage and more.

Storm Stories

Hurricane recovery is a long, traumatic process that begins with understanding the storm’s impacts. A team of Reserves transformed their monitoring data into “Storm Stories” to help communities visualize post-storm changes in local environments.

Tabs on HABs 

This multi-Reserve study has positioned the National Estuarine Research Reserves System-Wide Monitoring Program to support algal bloom research, management, and education through enhanced high frequency, in situ chlorophyll a monitoring.

Connecting Data with Place

This team is developing tools and resources for Reserves to create more effective exhibits using water quality and weather data. The team aims to enhance visitor experience, promote learning, and encourage to protect estuary water quality.

Enhanced Analysis

Collecting data is one task—analyzing it and translating into useful projects is another. This team produced tools, graphical support, and training to help Reserves better understand water quality trends and share them in ways resource managers can more readily use.


Reserves monitor how the plant communities in wetlands, mangrove forests, and other estuarine habitats change over time. Reserves also study changes in these communities as they relate to specific scientific and management questions.
For example, the Sentinel Site Application Module (SSAM-1) is a protocol that Reserves use to study how climate change, manifested by changing water levels, is impacting plants in coastal habitats. At Sentinel Sites, Reserves collect data on changes in the elevation, hydrology, and migration of wetland plants. Along with weather and water quality data, this data informs regional and national science and policy.

As sea level continues to rise, marshes that can’t keep pace or migrate will drown. Sentinel site data helps scientists understand what’s likely to happen to local wetlands, important information for communities that rely on them to reduce flooding, stabilize shorelines, support fisheries, filter pollutants and much more.

Visualizing Change

Will wetlands keep up with sea level rise? To address this question, Reserves use Surface Elevation Tables (SETs) to collect critical data on how marsh elevation is changing over time. This team developed tools to analyze, visualize, and communicate this data to those who need it.

Marsh Response to Climate Change

This groundbreaking national study is examining how marsh vegetation is responding to climate change. How? By leveraging the Reserve System’s geographic diversity, nationally coordinated monitoring program, communication networks, and strong record of collaborative research.

Droning On!

To understand change, Reserve monitoring programs often combine ground-based measurements and satellite observations. Yet, data collected at the small and large scales can miss important things that happen in the middle. This team is developing an approach for using drones to monitor tidal wetlands.

Habitat Mapping & Change

Reserve generate maps of coastal and estuarine habitats to track and evaluate how they are changing over time. They use a standardized classification scheme to evaluate long-term changes in the extent and type of habitats within Reserves and how these changes are impacted from land uses within adjacent watersheds and changes in local sea level.