National System Protects Vital Estuaries

Resources about programs and research to help conserve coastal habitat and sustain communities

National System Protects Vital Estuaries
Scientists take water samples at the Old Woman Creek NERRS site in Huron, Ohio.
Gene Wright/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Editor’s note: This analysis was updated on July 29 , 2020, to streamline and clarify details about the National Estuarine Research Reserve System and the roles of states and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) is a network of protected estuaries and other habitats in coastal and Great Lakes states and territories. Estuaries are vibrant but vulnerable areas where freshwater flowing from rivers and streams mixes with saltwater from the ocean. Although the Great Lakes are exclusively freshwater, their coasts share many characteristics of estuary ecosystems.

The freshwater and salt marshes, seagrass, mangroves, vernal pools, upland forests, and riverine islands in these reserves provide shelter and food for fish, shellfish, and birds; buffer developed areas from storms and sea level rise; define coastal communities; and support recreation and resource-based economies.

Created by Congress in the early 1970s as part of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), the NERRS supports research and stewardship of U.S. estuaries and strong collaboration among federal and state officials, academics, nongovernmental organizations, and other individuals and entities invested in healthy coasts. Each reserve is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provides funding, national guidance, and technical assistance, and a state- or territorial-based entity, such as an agency or university, which is responsible for the day-to-day management of the site, with input from the local community.

The CZMA guidelines call for at least one reserve in each of 29 distinct biogeographical subregions. Pew is working with scientists, allied organizations, and national, state, and local officials to strategically expand the network.

Black and White Warbler
Black and White Warbler

Connecticut Closer to a National Estuarine Research Reserve

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After securing preliminary site approval for a National Estuarine Research Reserve last fall, Connecticut officials and partners have begun the extensive process of creating environmental documents that would govern how the site would be managed.


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