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Reserves Set the Bar for Restoration


To measure the success of several tidal wetland restoration projects around the country.

Project Period

2008 to 2012


Five restored coastal habitat sites in Maine (from Kittery to Scarborough) and twelve in Rhode Island, Virginia, North Carolina, and Oregon were compared to undisturbed, healthy, and well functioning sites within nearby estuarine reserves. For the comparison, scientists used data obtained through the System-Wide Monitoring Program (established by the reserve system in 1995 to track changes in estuaries and coastal areas) combined with a number of specific measurements made for this study at each site


Researchers found that most restored sites remained in transition, but had achieved an intermediate level of natural health by the time of the study. Two restored sites excelled, being very similar to their paired reference sites.

Two variables — elevation of marsh platform and depth to groundwater — were significantly correlated with the structure of restored plant communities, suggesting they may be important indicators of restoration performance in tidal wetlands.

Management Message

The study demonstrated that the estuarine reserves can be suitable reference sites for tidal wetland restoration projects in their regions. The relatively pristine habitats within the reserves establish a useful bar for what restoration projects can aspire to achieve


This project was conducted by the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) System in cooperation with the NOAA Restoration Center, which has funded nearly 700 restoration projects since 2000. The reserve sites involved were:

  • Wells NERR (Maine)
  • Chesapeake Bay NERR (Virginia)
  • Narragansett Bay NERR (Rhode Island)
  • North Carolina NERR
  • South Slough NERR (Oregon)

This project was also summarized in Watermark 29(2): Fall 2012

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