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Atchafalaya National Estuarine Research Reserve

Nominated NERR boundary Map.

What is a National Estuarine Reserve?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), created by the Coastal Zone Management Act, is a network of 30 coastal areas designated to protect and study estuarine systems. Collectively, these 30 National Estuarine Research Reserves contain 1.3 million acres of estuary. Designation by the NERRS requires the candidate is “a representative estuarine ecosystem suitable for long-term research, which may include all of the key land and water portions of an estuary, and adjacent transitional areas and uplands constituting to the extent feasible a natural unit, and which is set aside as a natural field laboratory to provide long-term opportunities for research, education, and interpretation.” Enrollment in the NERRS has no impact on existing regulations or access.  It creates an opportunity for funding and community outreach that encourages and facilitates use by teachers, students, decision makers, and coastal residents. Each reserve is managed by a lead state agency or university, who integrates input from local partners, for which NOAA provides funding, guidance, and technical assistance.

Some key benefits of the National Estuarine Reserve System, compiled in 2017 by the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association (a non-profit Reserve advocacy group), are as follows:

  • Reserves protect more than 1.3 million acres of coastal and estuarine lands that provide flood protection, keep water clean, sustain and create jobs, support fish and wildlife, and offer outdoor recreation.
  • Every year, programs offered at reserves attract more than a half a million visitors, and educate approximately 85,000 students and 3,200 teachers.
  • Decision makers from more than 2,500 cities and towns and 570 businesses benefit by reserve based science and technical expertise nationwide each year.
  • Reserves leverage additional funding for their surrounding communities. In some states, this can be as much as $1.5 million.
  • Reserve protection and management of estuaries keeps commercial and recreational fishermen successful. The national system contributes billions of dollars to the shellfish and seafood industry in states with a reserve, and tens of billions of dollars in ocean-dependent industries

Why does Louisiana Need a Reserve?

As of 2022, Louisiana is the only marine coastal state in the country lacking a reserve. Louisiana’s unique biogeographic setting makes it a unique, if not essential, addition to the NERR System, which does not currently contain a large river-delta estuary (Bianchi & Allison, 2009) as a site. The Atchafalaya Basin is the nation’s largest freshwater swamp, and where it meets the Gulf of Mexico, there are two (Atchafalaya River Delta and Wax Lake Delta) active, land-building coastal deltas that represent river-delta estuaries (Twilley et al., 2016).

In addition to its unique ecosystems, Louisiana faces many challenges such as: some of the highest rates of land loss in the nation, subsidence-induced flooding of coastal communities, frequent tropical storms and hurricanes, human caused catastrophes such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and sea level rise. Establishing a NERR will provide short-term and long-term targeted research, monitoring, education, and outreach to help Louisiana enable the Coastal Zone to be more resilient in the face of these challenges. Designating a reserve in Louisiana, and being part of the NERR System, would provide a national stage to showcase the unique attributes of a major river-delta estuary to the nation. Additionally, it would also promote efforts at the national and community level to restore and protect this natural, economic, educational, and cultural resource.

What is the process of establishing a Louisiana NERR?

The first step to designating a Louisiana NERR involved evaluating potential reserve sites and finalizing a nomination. The selection  process  identified  the  proposed Atchafalaya  site  through  a multi-year  effort,  examining  six estuarine zones that represent the hydrologic basins of the Mississippi River Delta and engaging individuals  from a variety of state agencies,  academic  institutions, non-governmental organizations, and members of the public. In May 2022, the NERR Executive Committee recommended the Atchafalaya NERR as the preferred site to be nominated by the Governor to NOAA. In June 2022, Governor John Bel Edwards publicly announced his support for nominating the Atchafalaya Basin for the NERRS. NOAA is currently in review of the Atchafalaya NERR nomination for acceptance.

If accepted, the next step for designation requires a collaborated effort between NOAA and the State (Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority), to host public scoping meetings and prepare a draft and final management plan (DMP and MP). This plan will include a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) identifying state and NOAA roles in managing the reserve, and the appropriate MOUs among reserve partners establishing roles and responsibilities. Concurrently, NOAA in coordination with the State will be in charge of completing the requirements for Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS and EIS) for the proposed NERR.

What lands will be included in the NERR?

At this time, Louisiana is considering sites from existing publicly owned lands and adjacent public trust waters. In the future, the NERR site could expand with municipal and non-profit property; and with donated or purchased land from willing landowners.

Does the designation of a reserve bring more rules and regulations?

The designation of the NERR would not add any new regulations. NOAA will examine whether a proposed site is adequately managed for long-term research and education by existing state authorities. There are no federal regulations imposed as a result of reserve designation.


As the process to designate the Louisiana NERR proceeds, updates -including meeting information- will be provided below.

NERR Site Nomination – Upcoming Meetings

To Be Announced…

NERR Site Nomination – Previous Meetings & Information

Two public meetings (one in-person, and one virtual) were held for the purpose of providing information and receiving comments on the preliminary recommendation by the State of Louisiana that portions of the Atchafalaya River Delta area be proposed to NOAA for designation as a National Estuarine Research Reserve. Both public meetings presented the same information. The state agency holding the meetings is the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management assisted with the meetings.

Detailed information on the proposed site[s] can be found on the following website:

Wednesday, Nov. 2  

5:00 PM


Location:  Morgan City Auditorium (728 Myrtle Street, Morgan City, Louisiana 70380)




Thursday, Nov. 3 12:00 PM &  5:00 PM

Virtual Hearing

(See Video Below For Recording Of Meeting)




The views of interested persons and organizations regarding the proposed nomination are solicited. This information may be expressed verbally and in written statements. A presentation about the proposal and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System was provided at both meetings. Written comments may also be sent by email to or by mail to the following address:

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

Public Comments – NERR

150 Terrace Avenue

Baton Rouge, LA 7080

All written comments must be received no later than seven days following the public meetings [November 10, 2022]. All comments received will be considered by the state when formally nominating a site or sites to NOAA.

For questions regarding the hearings, please contact

Ms. Kristin Ransom, NOAA Office for Coastal Management, National Ocean Service, NOAA, 1021 Balch Blvd. Suite 1003, Stennis Space Center, Stennis, MS 39529; Phone: 601-568-1091 or Email:


In February 2022, nine public town hall meetings (three each in the three estuarine zones) were held to engage stakeholders in the process of developing site proposals. Letters of support for each estuarine zone represented a cross section of public and private interest in seeing a NERR developed in coastal Louisiana. The Screening Subcommittee, a subset of the SDC, scored each of the three proposals against the final LaNERR Site Criteria.

Following Detailed Site Screening and Scoring of the three estuarine zone proposals by the Screening Subcommittee, the Executive Committee of the LaNERR process reviewed the overall site selection process and outcomes of the Detailed Site Screening and Scoring process and made the final recommendation of a NERR to the Governor for consideration in a nomination to NOAA. This committee included two persons each from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR), CPRA, and GOCA and three members from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). On May 26, 2022, by a six to three vote, the LaNERR Executive Committee recommended the Atchafalaya NERR (Figure 2) to be nominated as the Louisiana NERR to NOAA. The Executive Committee also recommended that CPRA would serve as the state lead agency, along with continued support from LSU, to work with NOAA in completing the remaining tasks in designating the Atchafalaya NERR. Through a June 15, 2022, press release, Governor John Bel Edwards publicly announced his support for nominating the Atchafalaya NERR to NOAA.

Resources & Information:

Alternative Site Proposals Information:

Atchafalaya Basin

Barataria Basin

Pontchartrain Basin


Site Development

April 2020 – January 2022
During this phase, proposed zones were prescreened by the Site Designation Committee. Initial Candidate areas were developed.

Resources & Information:


Site Development Committee Meeting #7 — November 21, 2021

Site Development Committee Meeting #6 — July 14, 2021

Site Development Committee Meeting #5 — May 13, 2021

Site Development Committee Meeting #4 — March 30 & 31, 2021



November 2020 – August 2021
During this phase an overview of LaNERR Process was presented to Stakeholders. These stakeholders provided feedback on Proposed LaNERR areas.