National System Protects Vital Estuaries

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

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.

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Vibrant Louisiana Estuary Closer to Joining Federal System

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On April 20, one of Louisiana’s most vibrant and biodiverse natural habitats could move a step closer to gaining protection as a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). Two public meetings—on April 20 and 25—will help shape the proposed reserve, which is in the vast Atchafalaya Basin.

Seth Blitch
Seth Blitch
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A National Estuarine Research Reserve in Louisiana

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Earlier this summer, Louisiana nominated a portion of the Atchafalaya Basin—often referred to by coastal scientists and conservationists as “America’s wetland”—to become the country’s 31st site in the federal National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). This network of protected estuaries and other habitats in coastal and Great Lakes states and territories supports research, stewardship, education, training, and recreation within these vital ecosystems.

Silberreiher
Silberreiher
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Louisiana's First National Estuarine Research Reserve

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A portion of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Coastal Basin, an area rich in plant and wildlife biodiversity and the site of two actively growing deltas, could soon gain federal designation as a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR).

American alligator
American alligator
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Louisiana Seeks to Stem Coastal Wetlands Declines

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Despite having the fifth-longest coastline in the U.S. and the country’s largest area of coastal wetlands, Louisiana is the only coastal state without a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). Officials there are now beginning the extensive process to change that.

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