National Estuarine Research Reserve System
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Research and Monitoring Programs in the NERRS
Research and Monitoring Overview

Estuaries are the connection between the ocean and the land. Humans depend on both ocean and land for their very existence, so caring for both – and the connection between them – is vital to humans. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System protects more than 1.3 million acres of coastal and estuarine habitats in order to investigate their physical and biological processes. These studies are vital to the understanding and management of these crucial ecosystems.

The National Estuarine Research Reserves serve as living laboratories for on-site staff, visiting scientists and graduate students who study coastal ecosystems. In this capacity, the reserves serve as platforms for long-term research and monitoring, as sentinel sites to better understand the effects of climate change, and as reference sites for comparative studies.  The goals of the Reserve System's research and monitoring program include (1) ensuring a stable environment for research through long-term protection of Reserve resources; (2) addressing coastal management issues through coordinated estuarine research within the System; and (3) collecting information necessary for improved understanding and management of estuarine areas, and making the information available to stakeholders.

By understanding how estuaries function and change over time, Reserve System scientists hope to predict how coastal systems respond to changes in climate and human-induced disturbances. The factors that influence estuarine systems often occur over long periods of time and across broad geographic areas. This makes it difficult to separate natural change from human-induced change.  The Reserve System relies on sustained long-term monitoring to identify patterns of change. Research then helps to establish the causes of observed changes. The Reserve System’s monitoring program, coupled with supported research programs, provides a foundation for developing solutions to coastal management problems by determining how estuarine ecosystems change, and why these changes occur.

Each reserve works on a variety of research projects, in addition to participating in the System-wide Monitoring Program and the Graduate Research Fellowship program. The topics of these projects are quite varied and depend on local needs and issues, as well as issues of national concern.  Topics may include issues such as investigating the impacts of non-point source pollution, understanding the role of social science in coastal resource management, and controlling invasive species.

The newly-established NERRS Science Collaborative is designed to put Reserve-based science to work for local communities. Administered by the University of New Hampshire (UNH), this program funds research projects that bring scientists, intended users of the science, stakeholders, educators, and trainers together to address problems related to coastal pollution and habitat degradation in the context of climate change. The results of these projects will be shared throughout the System. The Collaborative also sponsors a UNH-based graduate and professional education program focused on helping individuals develop the skills needed to link science-based information to coastal resource management decisions.

The NERRS Sentinel Sites Program will build upon SWMP by focusing data collection and measurements on specific climate related issues, and by leveraging resources and partnerships to provide the necessary support. The ultimate goal of the NERRS Sentinel Sites Program is to help determine reserve vulnerabilities to climate change (initially, sea level/lake level change and inundation and habitat response), and to translate our understanding to coastal communities and coastal managers. The NERRS Sentinel Sites Guidance Document describes a general approach for establishing a NERRS Sentinel Sites Program as well as the context of the NERRS Sentinel Sites Program in relationship to a larger NOAA Sentinel Site Program. Although the initial focus of the NERRS Sentinel Sites Program will be on changes in marsh, mangrove, and submerged aquatic vegetation responses related to changes in sea level/lake level and inundation, we anticipate that in the future other documents would be developed to provide guidance for NERRS Sentinel Sites that are established to address the effects of other climate-related stressors on coastal habitat.

Last Updated on: Monday, April 23, 2012
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