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Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve: Connecting people to science for 30 years

Educators’ workshop at Jug Bay; department photos

This year marks the 30th anniversary of several interesting American events: the release of the movies The Goonies and Back to the Future, the launch of CNN’s Larry King Live, and the first registered .com, for example.

Here at the Department of Natural Resources, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve program in Maryland (CBNERR-MD). The program—a federal, state, and local partnership—protects more than 6,000 acres at three natural areas to use as living classrooms and laboratories.

Jug Bay

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) designated Maryland’s first CBNERR-MD site in 1985. Monie Bay in Somerset County was chosen to represent the Middle Bay environment of the Eastern Shore. In 1990, DNR decided to add two other sites: Jug Bay in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties and Otter Point Creek in Harford County. The sites represent a western shore tributary and an upper bay system, respectively.

At each location, at any given time, you may find teachers making connections to land use and water quality through the collection and analysis of data; high schoolers becoming stewards of the environment through invasive species service projects; volunteers tracking habitat changes by conducting fish and bird surveys; and local governments incorporating climate considerations into long-range planning through hands-on technical assistance and peer-to-peer sharing.

By studying Maryland’s estuaries, program staff seek to empower people to make better decisions regarding the health of the water and land around them. The program contributes to a vision of a healthy, productive and resilient Chesapeake Bay by conducting and integrating research into education, training and stewardship.


A national network

CBNERR-MD is one of 28 research reserves across the country, and is among just a handful of others comprised of multiple sites.

Frank Dawson, who was acting manager of CBNERR-MD at the time of designation provides some insight: “The vision of the Reserve program in Maryland was to have multiple sites that reflect the diversity of the estuarine systems of the Chesapeake Bay, allow us to monitor change, research pressing issues, and provide opportunities for hands-on educational experiences.”

Water logger installation at Monie Bay

Each reserve participates in what is called the System Wide Monitoring Program or SWMP (pronounced swamp). Since all Reserves collect the same type of data—habitat information, water quality and weather—SWMP paints a picture of what is happening nationally as well as locally. Results can be used individually or in conjunction with other research projects to understand how the environment is changing.

SWMP technician John Zimmerelli values the data to “understand stressors to the system—climate, storms and pollution, and subsidence—and to monitor, track and understand trends over time as well as on a daily basis.”

Mark Trice, DNR Program Chief of Water and Informatics values data afforded on a real-time basis.

“The program has been a stalwart source of information, providing an unbroken record to evaluate water quality conditions, along with other important data,” he explains.

The reserve program is also home to a number of research projects, conducted by staff and visiting scientists on topics including how vegetation reacts to increased flooding or the effectiveness of marsh restoration.


Through the eyes of a volunteer

Bryon Bodt is one of Otter Point’s most seasoned volunteers, having worked with the Reserve since the site’s designation.

“I knew Otter Point Creek when it was nothing,” he comments. “I’ve enjoyed being a part of the Estuary Center as it has evolved to provide access to the public and unique educational experiences for all ages.”

Bodt can often be found out on the creek collecting water quality samples or participating in bi-monthly fish surveys.

When asked why he loves getting out in the field, he responds, “The data helps us understand the health of the creek and how trends such as land use are affecting plants and animals that inhabit the area.”

“Every time I go out on the water with Bryon he teaches me something new. He knows more about Otter Point Creek than anyone else I know,” says Amanda Garzio-Hadzick, a full-time stewardship and research assistant with CBNERR-MD.


Barn Owl box installation at Monie Bay

The citizen science connection

Kriste Garman, director of the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center at Otter Point Creek, views the Reserve as an asset to their programming.

“The Estuary Center is unique among nature centers due to our affiliation with CBNERR-MD,” she adds. “Their focus on research and monitoring becomes our focus, and because of that we have a rich offering of citizen science opportunities that give our volunteers the chance to indulge their inner scientist and immerse themselves in a topic.”

CBNERR-MD has prided itself on connecting people to science for the last 30 years and will continue to do so for many years to come. For anyone interested in visiting these special places, the fall is a wonderful time to explore.


Article by Jennifer Raulin—CBNERR-MD manager.
Appears in Vol. 18, No. 4 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, fall 2015.