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The NERRS Designation Process

Like the management of the reserves, the process for designating a National Estuarine Research Reserve reflects a close partnership and working relationship between the federal and state governments. States and NOAA work together to select sites that will contribute to the diversity of the system in terms of biogeography and other characteristics and that can address local needs and situations. Due to resource constraints, NOAA is not actively encouraging new nominations at this time.

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Designation of a National Estuarine Research Reserve is a careful process carried out by the host state to find suitable areas and ensure that existing protection measures are adequate. Click image for larger view.

The NERRS designation process begins formally with a letter from the state's governor to the NOAA administrator expressing interest in developing a reserve program and engaging in the site nomination process, indicating a need for funds for site selection (if applicable), and identifying the lead state agency or agencies for contact. NOAA officials make the preliminary determination about whether the agency can accept nominations at that time, depending upon budget considerations and staff resources.

Once NOAA determines that it can accept a new nomination, the lead state agency applies to NOAA for up to $100,000 federal matching funds for pre-designation activities. These activities include developing documents outlining:

  • site selection
  • preparation of the required draft and final environmental impact statements and management plans
  • a limited basic characterization of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the site

NOAA ensures that these documents comply with federal regulations and is responsible for publishing the documents prior to formal designation. The full process takes an average of four to six years.

NOAA evaluates nominations on a number of criteria, including the ability of existing state regulations to protect the site for long-term research and education purposes. There are no federal regulations imposed as a result of reserve designation.

Once a reserve is designated, the state is responsible for day-to-day management. NOAA administers the entire reserve system. NOAA's responsibilities include:

  • establishing standards for designating and operating reserves
  • providing support for reserve operations
  • undertaking projects that benefit the entire system
  • integrating information to support national decision-making
  • overseeing and evaluating the implementation of the reserve

For more information about the reserve designation process, visit