Every spring for the past 50 years, researchers of estuarine science make their annual migration to a coastal town in New England to share their latest findings. For 3 days, researchers convene to present their work often relating to water quality, seagrasses, salt marshes, fish communities, and invertebrates such as oysters, or to discuss a pressing issue such as rising seas or ocean acidification. The New England Estuarine Research Society (NEERS), a non-profit organization made up of researchers from Universities, scientific institutions, non-profits, and federal, state and municipal agencies, hosts this scientific conference each spring. NEERS is a regional affiliate and a founding member of the larger organization, the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation, which shared mission is to enhance the understanding and stewardship of estuarine and coastal ecosystems across North America. NERRS is not to be, but is easily confused, with NERRS (National Estuarine Research Reserve System), which is the network of Reserves that Great Bay is a part of. It’s an ongoing brain twister for all New England researchers to correctly annunciate, similar to someone from Boston saying ‘wicked’ or Maine saying ‘Moxie’.
This spring’s NEERs conference was scheduled to take place at Salem State University to celebrate its 50th anniversary, where the first meeting was held back in 1969. But as we know, a microscopic virus the fraction of the size of single-celled bacteria, made the world come to a screeching halt. Remarkably, conference organizers were able to pivot to an entirely virtual meeting, allowing knowledge to be shared and advanced. Bookending this year’s conference was a special symposium celebrating the 50th year anniversary, which focused on the past 50 years. In depth talks included the history of NEERS, trends of water quality improvements and benthic invertebrate populations in Narragansett Bay in RI, phenological shifts seen in the Gulf of Maine, and population trends, science and restoration for seagrass meadows, salt marshes, and shellfish – with much of this work occurring in Great Bay. The second day reverted back to talks from professors, researchers, and students summarizing their latest findings from the past 1 year or 2. Some presentations of note include measuring carbon storage in seagrass populations all over New England, with the highest rates found in Great Bay likely due to high nutrient and sediment inputs, and how trapping purple marsh crabs in Nantucket has reversed salt marsh dieback.
All in all, it was a science-packed 3 days, including a special symposium, virtual social gathering, mentoring event, and over 30 presentations on the latest estuarine science, with 4 talks focusing on work in Great Bay. Next conference, I plan to add to the Great Bay count.
-Chris Peter, GBNERR Research Coordinator
Photo credit: https://www.cerf.science/