Infographic: Hands-on learning fosters human connection to estuaries

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 29 coastal sites designated to protect and study estuary systems and how they respond to human influence and environmental change. These sites are outdoor living classrooms that help build knowledge of the critical role estuaries play in our lives — from providing recreational opportunities to protecting our coastal communities. You can explore the impact of these special places through a new series of infographics. 

National Estuarine Research Reserve Education: Change on the ground in 2017.
National Estuarine Research Reserve Education: Change on the ground in 2017. (NOAA)

Outdoor living classrooms

In 2017, nearly 520,000 visitors learned about estuaries and the human connection to them through the research reserve education programs. Interpretive centers provide interactive learning and hands-on experiences of small-scale estuarine systems, enabling visitors to get up close and personal with critters that reside within the estuary.  

Preparing the next generation

Educating teachers and students on the value of estuary ecosystems helps safeguard these resources for future generations. The popular Teachers on the Estuary program provides field-based training to improve teachers’ understanding of the environment using local research. Subsequently, teachers bring this newfound knowledge to their students and colleagues, often inspiring positive environmental change. Through these activities, students and teachers build their knowledge of estuary science through local data, lab work, and field investigation. 

Improving the environment 

Research reserve educators lead programs that engage citizens and foster coastal stewardship. Through these programs, reserve staff trained 13,754 citizens inspiring them to protect their coasts and estuaries. Reserves rely on citizens to become volunteers who take ownership in protecting wildlife, monitoring water quality, planting native species, and cleaning up the coasts. Volunteer contributions are an integral piece of the daily operations within the reserves. 

Explore how reserve education is creating change on the ground around the country and in your state. Find estuary educational resources and learn more about all sites at




Great Lakes

Gulf of Mexico

West Coast