The Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) was established in 1999, with a mission “to practice and promote informed stewardship of the Grand Bay NERR and Mississippi coastal resources through innovative research, education and training.” The Grand Bay NERR is managed by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management. The Grand Bay NERR is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which includes 29 sites protected by the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 for research and outreach. The program aims to better understand estuaries and then directly disseminate the information to the community for improved management of coastal habitats.
The Grand Bay NERR contains about 18,000 acres of land including estuarine tidal marsh, tidal creeks or bayous, shallow, open-water habitats, oyster reefs, seagrass beds, maritime forests, salt flats, sandy beaches, and shell middens. These protected lands are extremely important to the functioning of the estuarine ecosystem; and include “ecological units of a natural estuarine system which preserves, for research purposes, a full range of significant physical, chemical and biological factors contributing to the diversity of fauna, flora, and natural processes occurring within the estuary.” This area is Mississippi’s largest area of marshlands and wetland pine savanna habitat.
The Reserve has been built over the years, depending upon strong and enduring partnerships.
The Grand Bay NERR is co-located with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Jackson County (the Refuge extends into Alabama) and is also a part of the MDMR Grand Bay Savanna Coastal Preserve. The Nature Conservancy has also worked to contribute to the conservation of the Grand Bay savanna through land acquisitions and donations to the Refuge. Other partners, including Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, continue to work in Grand Bay to improve habitat quality and increase public ownership of these special habitats. Ongoing efforts with these partners are underway to manage these lands to maintain native pine savanna and protect the marshlands from erosion and other impacts.
The Grand Bay NERR works with partners from Mississippi State University, University of Southern Mississippi, and other local and regional universities to conduct research and monitoring of the Grand Bay estuary. The Grand Bay Community Collaborative is a group of natural resource partners, community members, and stakeholders that works with the NERR to focus research and outreach programs on the most important aspects of local coastal management and estuarine education. The Collaborative is one of many initiatives of the NERR’s training program that links researchers and our scientific endeavors with the local community of coastal managers and stakeholders. The Grand Bay NERR also works with many local schools and communities to bring our discoveries directly into the classroom and to bring students to the NERR for hands-on experiences with the coastal environment.