National Estuaries Week Turns 35

By Rob Shane

Coastal restoration organizations, federal and state agencies, and Members of Congress joined RAE, NERRA, and ANEP to celebrate National Estuaries Week 2023 from September 16-23. This year’s Estuaries Week was a special milestone, too – marking the 35th annual celebration of our nation’s coasts and the many resources they provide.

What began in 1988 as just a day to recognize Estuaries has now become a weeklong event that includes dozens of opportunities to participate in trash cleanups, paddling events, open houses, and many more activities. In total, 38 events  were held in 12 different states that brought out approximately 3,200 local residents to celebrate and care for their favorite estuaries. Click here to see a map of this year’s events!

One of our favorite events from Estuaries Week 2023 was hosted by RAE Member Group, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. The project, led by Darrah Bach, CRCL’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program Manager, focused on constructing an oyster reef with the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe to protect a mound complex from wave action and erosion. Volunteers took a boat ride  from the community center to the project site to deploy the bags of oyster shells, getting their hands dirty and their feet wet in the name of conservation! CRCL constructed the first phases of this project in 2019 and 2022 alongside the Tribe and volunteers.

Volunteers measure oyster shells
Photo by CRCl

“We monitored both Pointe-au-Chien reefs concurrently last week (2019 reef monitoring year 4 and 2022 reef monitoring year 1). Both reefs had a healthy count of live oysters.” said Darrah. “Among the creatures spotted in our samples: eels, blue snapping shrimp, blood worms, tiny oyster spat at 2-3 days old. Overall more organisms were counted at the 2019 reef, consistent with the expected upward trajectory of ecosystem development over time. In preparation for the construction of Phase 2 of the 2022 reef this week, Dexter Ellis of The Water Institute helped us place PVC pipes to mark the places where volunteers will fill low spots and extend the reef on either side to complete the 400-linear-foot living shoreline with a total of 200 tons of recycled shells.

In addition to these regional events, RAE hosted our first Estuaries Week Happy Hour at Coastline Oyster CO. in Washington, DC for staff of Congress, federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations working in estuary restoration. More than 70 folks joined us for a taste of the coast that included fresh oysters from the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and Massachusetts, scallops from New Jersey, and North Carolina shrimp. We were also honored to have Dr. Rick Spinrad, Administrator for NOAA, join us and deliver brief remarks about the importance of estuaries to NOAA and the Biden Administration.

Dr. Rick Spinrad and Daniel Hayden
Dr. Rick Spinrad and Daniel Hayden celebrate at National Estuaries Week Happy Hour

This support is not just lip service, either, with billions of dollars being sent out the door for coastal restoration through both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

We also want to recognize and thank Members of Congress for once again introducing Resolutions in both chambers federally recognizing Sept 16-23 as National Estuaries Week. In the House, the Congressional Estuaries Caucus led the Resolution and Senators Whitehouse (RI) and Cassidy (LA) co-led. In total, the Resolutions garnered 46 bipartisan cosponsors – the highest number in recent memory.

Senate Resolution 353
Senators Whitehouse (RI), Cassidy (LA), Baldwin (WI), Blumenthal (CT), Booker (NJ), Cantwell (WA), Cardin (MD), Carper (DE), Collins (ME), Coons (DE), Feinstein (CA), Hassan (NH), Hirono (HI), Hyde-Smith (MS), Kaine (VA), Kennedy (LA), King (ME), Markey (MA), Merkley (OR), Murphy (CT), Reed (RI), Rubio (FL), Shaheen (NH), Schatz (HI), Van Hollen (MD), Warner (VA), Warren (MA), Wyden (OR), Padilla (CA)

House Resolution 688
Representatives Posey (FL), Mast (FL), Larsen (WA), Bonamici (OR), Chavez-DeRemer (OR), Blumenauer (OR), Kilmber (WA), Brownley (CA), Blunt Rochester (DE), Carson (IN), Kuster (NH), Pappas (NH), Nadler (NY), Beyer (VA), Carter (GA), Harder (CA), Lawler (NY)

A few days prior to Estuaries Week, RAE, NERRA, and ANEP also took staff members from the Congressional Estuaries Caucus canoeing on the Anacostia River just upstream from the Washington, DC boundaries. Thanks to our good friends at the Anacostia Watershed Society, staff members were able to get up close and personal with a tidal, urban watershed right in the heart of the city.

As we’ve done in the past, we also highlighted projects completed through our Caring For Our Coast Grant Program, a partnership between RAE and CITGO. This year, organizations from throughout the Gulf of Mexico region used funding to host educational events, trash pickups, plantings, and more all in the name of National Estuaries Week. You can find all these stories on our blog!

Lastly, we’d like to thank our friends at NOAA and U.S. EPA, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for your unending support of estuaries, not just during one week, but 365 days a year. We’re already looking forward to National Estuaries Week 2024!

Group photo on river
Staff from Congressional Estuaries Caucus join RAE, ANEP, and NERRA for canoe trip on the Anacostia River