During the summer of 2020, many people and organizations around the country took a hard look in the mirror and asked themselves tough questions about race, diversity, justice and inclusion.  As with many science and conservation groups around the country, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) is not representative of the demographics of the nation and is not doing as much as we can to welcome all types of people into our programs, our leadership and our decision making.  Each year, staff from the 29 reserves from around the country gather in one place to share ideas, plan national initiatives, and support our mutual work to protect and promote estuaries.  The 2020 NERRS annual meeting took place this month, and had a decidedly different feel. The meeting was virtual, and the gathering held conversations running throughout the plenary, regional sessions, and sector specific meetings to discuss Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the NERRS Network.

The System will be initiating a workgroup to guide a longer term effort to develop a strategy for the NERRS, and is looking for guidance and inspiration from leaders who have faced this challenge, and from other coastal and environmental organizations that are implementing real change. At the plenary, we heard J. Drew Lanham from Clemson University and Parker McMullen Bushman from Ecoinclusive, a non-profit that provides training and resources for non-profit, cultural, and environmental organizations to aid them in building a culturally competent staff that reflects the populations that they serve.  The plenary showed us the diversity that we have in our sites now, prompted us to keep an open heart and mind, and allowed for reserves to ask Parker and Drew questions about how our system can do better.

During a working session I attended, representatives from the California Coastal Conservancy explained changes they have made to their hiring process, Sea Grant representatives talked about their peer learning and strategy development, and the Chesapeake Bay Program spoke about efforts they have made to elevate this issue to all of the governors involved in the program. This topic can be overwhelming to think about from the perspective of the Great Bay NERR. As the manager of the reserve, I have been trained to manage people and budgets and I have a solid background in policy and science. I do not have expertise in this arena, and I was so grateful to learn from the knowledge and experience of others and energized to think about how we can start this journey at the Great Bay NERR. A clear first step is learning more- I started this week by reading some of the resources that Sea Grant posted to their website: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Community of Practice.   I know that the Great Bay Stewards are also committed to this effort, and have started by dedicating resources to diversify participation in our school programs, visitor experience, and the GB Stewards fundraisers.  One of the most rewarding things about being a part of a National Estuarine Research Reserve is that there always much to learn and meaningful work to do; in the estuaries we protect, the communities we work in, and within ourselves. I hope to follow up with another blog in a year and tell you about our progress fostering Diversity and Inclusion at Great Bay NERR.

-Cory Riley, Reserve Manager

Photo Credit: NOAA/OCM, 2019 NERRS Meeting, South Carolina