Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR)

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National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS)

NERRS was established by the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972. The CZMA was passed to encourage coastal states to "preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore or enhance the resources of the nation's coastal zone."[1] NERRS is in partnership with the NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provides funding and national assistance with the expectation of monitoring of atmospheric and environmental conditions. There are currently 29 National Estuarine Research Reserves under this partnership (NERR). Utilizing research and education, the staff of ESNERR actively engage with the community to address important ecosystem issues such as pollution, invasive species and ecological restoration.[2]

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR)

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

ESNERR is administered by NOAA and managed by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). It is a 1,700 acre reserve at the Elkhorn Slough on the Central Coast of California. The waters of Elkhorn Slough's main channel are part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest of thirteen sanctuaries in the National Marine Sanctuary System.[3] The surrounding marshes and areas of restricted tidal flow form the reserve. [Map of Elkhorn Slough jurisdiction]


“The mission of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is to improve the understanding and stewardship of Elkhorn Slough and its watershed.” To ensure that Elkhorn Slough remains in good health, ESNERR has set conservation targets[4]:

  1. Estuarine habitat
  2. Freshwater habitat
  3. Maritime chaparral
  4. Coastal prarie habitat
  5. Coastal live oak habitat
  6. Watershed habitats


The research and monitoring activities for ESNERR are shaped around national plans that help to establish the priorities, goals and implementation approaches for the program. ESNERR partners with the Elkhorn Slough Foundation in research, outreach, and training activities. ESNERR designs all research around the defined goals of the National Estuarine Research Reserve system. These goals include promoting open access to the federal and state employees as well as the public. ESNERR conducts research in order better understand the area and aims to address any issues that have been identified by previous research

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

The goal of the research program is to better understand estuarine ecosystem as well as their surrounding watersheds. The program has a variety of ongoing research projects that monitor long term trends, but they also have research that focuses on short term threats to the communities and ecosystem. The current research activities at ESNERR are focused on the following topics[4]:

Water Quality Monitoring

ESNERR has four water quality monitoring sites that are monitored as part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve system. These sites measure temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and depth using in-situ water quality sondes. These data are published and available for viewing as trends maps, summary plots, and aggregations on swmprats.net. The four site codes are:

  • elkapwq - Azavedo Pond
  • elknmwq - North Marsh
  • elksmwq - South Marsh
  • elkvmwq - Vierra Mouth

Every month, nitrates are sampled at these and other voluntary monitoring stations. In total, the Reserve has 24 different monitoring stations. Water quality from these stations has been used to compile a "water quality report card" representing overall water quality on an A-F scale[8]. An online interactive Water Quality Report Card has been produced by ESNERR scientists including data from water year 1990 to 2017.

Training Activities

All NERR's establish coastal training programs to educate the public about current estuarine issues, conservation efforts, and research. A primary goal of ESNERR is to “educate the community about the watershed and inspire them to consider environmental conservation when making decisions affecting Elkhorn Slough and its watershed."[4] In order to achieve this ESNERR has made a continuous effort to reach out to the community through educational training programs and activities. These outreach programs and workshops cater to a variety of audiences, but the four primary programs are:

  • The Coastal Training Program outreach program offers workshops promoting Collaborative Ecosystem Management, workgroups and scientific review to local decision makers. The Coastal Training Program offers a variety of workshops in environmental negotiations, environmental issues, and geographic information systems.[9]
  • School Programs: ESNERR offers educational field trips and student outreach programs to allow students to better understand the habitat and ecosystem of the Elkhorn Slough.
  • Public Education: A visitors center and guided tours of Elkhorn Slough allow volunteers to share knowledge to the local community about current efforts in the area.
  • Volunteer Programs: ESNERR encourages both short term and long term volunteers to help fulfill the mission of public education and habitat conservation.


  1. NOAA: Coastal Zone Management Act
  2. National Estuarine Research Reserve System
  3. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 ESNERR Management Plan 2007-2011
  5. Chapin et al. 2004
  6. Hughes et al. 2011
  7. Gee et al. 2008
  8. Mercado et al. 2014
  9. ESNERR Coastal Training Program



This page may contain student work completed as part of assigned coursework. It may not be accurate. It does not necessary reflect the opinion or policy of CSUMB, its staff, or students.