Final Evaluation Findings, Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, May 2006 through April 2011
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The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972, as amended, established the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). Sections 312 and 315 of the CZMA require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct periodic performance reviews or evaluations of all federally approved National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs). The review described in this document examined the operation and management of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (MANERR or the Reserve) during the period from its designation in May 2006 through April 2011. The Reserve is administered by the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (MSI). This document describes the evaluation findings of the Director of NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) with respect to the Mission-Aransas NERR during the review period. These evaluation findings include discussions of major accomplishments as well as recommendations for program improvement. The fundamental conclusion of the findings is that the State of Texas is adhering to the programmatic requirements of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System in its operation of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve. The evaluation team documented a number of Mission-Aransas Reserve accomplishments during this review period. Within just the five years since designation, the Reserve has assembled a highly respected and knowledgeable staff, has formed numerous partnerships and collaborations that strengthen the Reserve’s outreach and program effectiveness, and has successfully built facilities and infrastructure to establish the Reserve’s presence in both the community and on the Marine Science Institute campus. This includes the Estuarine Research Center, the Wetlands Education Center, and the Bay Education Center. Since 2006 the Reserve has successfully developed several programs that support the national system. Infrastructure to support the System-wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) was completely established and implemented within a year of designation. Direct services to local decision-maker audiences were established through the implementation of a Coastal Training Program as well. At the regional level, the Reserve is participating with the other four Gulf coast reserves to support priority issues of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and has held climate changerelated workshops addressing community resilience and a very well-received ‘living shorelines’ workshop. The submerged aquatic vegetation and emergent marsh biomonitoring program at the Reserve is leading to the establishment of a statewide seagrass monitoring plan, while a project to assist planners and resource managers in applying ecosystem-based management principles to land use planning has created more demand for training of this type. The evaluation team also identified areas where the Reserve and its programming could be strengthened. Because the Reserve is located on the MSI campus, which has had a well established presence since 1941, and because the Reserve staff and MSI staff and faculty work together seamlessly on so many programs, the Reserve’s identity is, to many people, virtually indistinguishable from that of MSI. The Mission-Aransas NERR’s identity and its contributions locally and nationally should be clearly and consistently recognized and acknowledged by the MSI. Select MSI staff also should be given access to the “Grants Online” process, to prevent delays and confusion that sometimes arise when dealing with CZMA awards and actions for the Reserve. Finally, the Reserve should consider how to make greater use of the expertise and interests of Reserve Advisory Board members to support the Reserve’s goals and objectives.