National System Protects Vital Estuaries

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

National System Protects Vital Estuaries
Last Updated June 11, 2021
NERRS
Scientists take water samples at the Old Woman Creek NERRS site in Huron, Ohio.
Gene Wright/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.

Guana Tolomato Matanzas NERR
Guana Tolomato Matanzas NERR
Article

National Estuary System Helps Power Local Economies

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A recently published study, commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and The Pew Charitable Trusts, offers a glimpse into the significant contributions that the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) makes to local economies.

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Black and White Warbler
Article

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.

Steve Crooks holding equipment in water in Khor Kalba
Steve Crooks holding equipment in water in Khor Kalba
Article

'Blue Carbon' Can Boost Global Climate Change Reduction

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Article

With national and international momentum building for protecting and enhancing coastal habitats to help combat climate change, countries around the world—and U.S. states—are exploring ways to expand and account for “blue carbon,” that is, atmospheric carbon that’s captured in the world’s coastal ecosystems.

Currituck Sound
Currituck Sound
Article

11 Facts About Salt Marshes

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Their grassy and sinuous channels fill and drain with saltwater as the tides ebb and flow, providing food, shelter, and nursery grounds for birds, fish, and other wildlife, ranging from dolphins and otters to snails and turtles.

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