St. Mary may figure in search for National Estuary Research Reserve site
Louisiana has formally launched its search for a site to serve as a National Estuary Research Reserve, and the area near St. Mary is one of the zones under consideration.
The reserve system is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program operated in partnership with coastal and Great Lake states for long-term research, education, and restoration. The current system is made up of 29 designated estuaries representative of the distinct estuary types found across the nation.
Among coastal states from Maine to Texas, Louisiana is the only state outside New England that does not have a National Estuary Research Reserve.
The broadest definition of estuary is the mouth of a river at the point where it meets sea tides.
According to a Zoom presentation on Wednesday, the reserves are some combination of state, federal and private land, subject to an agreement between the state government and NOAA.
The reserve serves as a place to research and monitor the estuarine ecosystem and as an educational tool for students and the general public.
“It’s a place to get our K-12 students, our college students, field trips,” said Robert Twilley of Louisiana Sea Grant, the organization with a lead role in identifying a potential reserve site.
Six broad zones — each much bigger than the reserve would probably be — have been identified for study. They are:
—The Mississippi River Delta.
NOAA pays for 70% of the reserves’ operation expenses, and the states pick up 30%.
One important point: The land use rules in effect in each state continue to apply in the reserves with no new federal regulations, said Kristin Ransom, a coastal management specialist with NOAA. The state is responsible for hiring reserve staff members and land management.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a press release that he’s glad to see the beginning of the process of selecting a reserve site.
“As the only Gulf coast state without a NERR, and thus the only Gulf state not sharing in the benefits of the system, I am delighted to bring the NERR program to Louisiana so we can showcase not only our unique deltaic system to the rest of the nation but also our determined and extensive efforts to restore and protect it,” Edwards said.
In July 2019, Edwards sent a letter of interest to NOAA announcing Louisiana’s intent to host a NERR and identified Louisiana Sea Grant as the agency to lead the search. In December of 2019, NOAA accepted the request.
“NERR sites bring the benefit of federal support to state driven applied science, monitoring, education and outreach activities,” Twilley said. “This also may include education and research facilities, public access improvements like nature trails, boat launches and overnight accommodations.”