The Great Bay National Estua¬rine Research Reserve was established in 1989 with a mission to advance our understanding of Great Bay and promote stewardship of this complex ecosystem. It accomplishes this mission through integrated programs of research, education, and stewardship.
Stewardship priorities at Great Bay focus on upland and intertidal resource management. Upland development, invasive species, habitat alteration, resource use, and climate change are the major drivers to ecological change in the Great Bay region. We strive to protect the integrity of Great Bay and its watershed by incorporating science and stewardship into decisions involving our natural resources. Community involvement and outreach, based on a strong foundation of science, is key to achieving stewardship goals.
Land Use and Habitat Change
As a founding member of the Great Bay Resource Protection Partnership, the Reserve has taken a lead in land protection to reduce the ecological impacts of habitat fragmentation caused by development in the watershed. Within the Reserve’s boundary, 5,129 acres are conserved. Of this total, the Great Bay Reserve has a management interest in 3,740 acres distributed over 71 parcels. Properties are managed to protect threatened species and sustain fish and wildlife popula¬tions in balance with human uses. Stewardship activities are structured experimentally when possible so that their outcomes can be evaluated and used to guide management actions beyond Reserve properties. Myriad efforts are underway to minimize local impacts of population growth and land use change with the goal of sustaining a healthy Great Bay watershed and estuary. Key strategies include conserving unde¬veloped land, implementing low impact develop-ment approaches, and controlling invasive species.
As climate change proceeds, coastal New Hampshire is likely to experience increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and storms. These changes have substantial implications for the Great Bay ecosystem, as species and habitats may shift in response to changes in temperature and sea level rise. In addi¬tion, human communities in the Great Bay watershed will be affected by increases in the magnitude and frequency of flood events due both to sea level rise and increased precipitation. Great Bay Reserve’s stewardship program is working to anticipate and assess ecological impacts of climate and sea level change. Comprehensive mapping of salt marsh habitats along with distribution of tidal creeks, pools, and panes will allow us to track vegetative change and associated impacts in this habitat most immediately impacted by any change in sea level. Establishment of long-term datasets of habitat characterization and establishment of vertical control infrastructure allow Great Bay Reserve’s lands to be a site-based living laboratory for research to further our understanding of our changing estuarine environment.
Changes in Biological Communities
Maintaining the diverse and productive biological communities in the Great Bay Estuary is a key goal of the Great Bay Reserve. In partner¬ship with other agencies and organizations, the Reserve helps advance multifaceted efforts to protect and restore habitats and species within the estuary and throughout its watershed. The Great Bay NERR strives to protect critical habitats primarily through its land conservation efforts, which are focused on salt marshes and upland habitats. In addition, the Great Bay Reserve works to help advance understanding, protection, and restoration of estuarine habitats such as seagrass beds and salt marshes, and species such as horseshoe crabs and marsh birds. Visitor use impacts are quantitatively assessed and key issues addressed in order to balance public enjoyment with maintenance of our native biological communities.