Coast to Coast

By Alee Knoell

Welcome to 2022, NERRds!

Let’s kickstart the new year by taking a moment to admire the stunning, diverse beauty of the natural world. From dry, dry deserts to wet, dewy rainforests, no two patches of land are exactly the same; most are, in fact, quite different.

I would, of course, be remiss if I did not bring estuaries to the forefront of this call to admiration.

Over Thanksgiving break I made my annual trek back home to San Diego, California, to spend some time with my family. But, I had another purpose in mind this trip; approximately 28 minutes from my grandmother’s house, nestled along the mountainous Mexican border and the Pacific coastline, lies the Tijuana River NERR. I had never visited another NERR and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. In the state I covet so much, I was finally going to pay homage to one of my favorite ecosystems- the estuary.

I don’t really know what I was expecting from my visit to the TR NERR… surely they would be similar, both being classified as estuaries and thus harboring the same structural characteristics. But on entirely different coasts, would it not make sense that they would be completely different worlds?

Standing in the amphitheater at the Tijuana River NERR looking west, beyond the trails and monitoring plots and desert vegetation, you can see the Pacific Ocean. And looking South, Mexico. The juxtaposition of the Tijuana River estuary and Mexico puts the TR NERR in a unique position of having to navigate their way through through diverse, multinational coastal management practices- not every Reserve borders another country! As such, adaptive restoration projects, such as the installation of sediment basins, have been implemented to abate the entry of harmful pollutants into the watershed.

Being a National Estuarine Research Reserve, the TR NERR also implements standardized monitoring such as the System-Wide Monitoring Program and SSAM-1, much like our own efforts at the GTM Research Reserve. These programs encompass a suite of monitoring efforts, such as collecting water quality parameters and examining and tracking the vegetation that makes up our marshes.

Unsurprisingly, the two estuaries are visually quite unique from each other. In the gallery below are some shots of the TR NERR (left) and the GTM NERR (right), both radiant and wild in their own right.

Despite how different the landscapes may appear from afar, a closer look reveals they are more similar than they seem. For instance, some plant species that we have growing in our boundaries grow within theirs as well. One such species is Salicornia. Can you tell the difference between the pictures below and identify which Salicornia is Floridian (Salicornia bigelovii) and which is Californian (Salicornia pacifica)?

Scroll to the bottom of the page where you’ll find the answers to see if you were right!

Now I know what you are all asking- how do these two estuaries differ from a data perspective? Or maybe you weren’t and I’m just projecting my own inquiries… in any case, using the CDMO website (click to take a gander)- the gatekeeper of the SWMP data collected across all 29 research reserves- I pulled some data that allows me an inside look at the water quality at both TR and GTM SWMP stations.

Desert broom, Baccharis sarothroides, Tijuana River Estuary

At 8:00 in the morning on December 1st, 2021 (a very randomly selected data point), the water temperature in the Oneonta Slough (TR) was 16.4 degrees Celsius. At that same time in the Intracoastal Waterway near the Matanzas Inlet (GTM, FM), the water temperature was 15.8 degrees Celsius, just over a degree difference in water temperature. Similarly, salinity did not differ too much between the sites, reading 33.1 practical salinity units (psu) in Oneonta and 32.3 psu in FM.

All in all, it appears that these two reserves are not as vastly different as may have been expected, especially considering the ~2,400 mile distance. They share many characteristics that make them what they are, estuaries! Where the river meets the sea: home to emergent vegetation, the mixing of waterbodies (salty and fresh), and a diverse array of plants and animals.

I hope this post inspires you all to branch out and explore the earth’s beauty across all regions, recognizing that although they may seem entirely different, there are likely some subtle similarities to be found. Click here to look at a map of the National Estuarine Research Reserves and perhaps plan some visits to explore more estuaries near you!

From the comparison picture of the two Salicornia spp. -Salicornia bigelovii (FL) is the picture on the left, and Salicornia pacifica (CA) is on the right.

This is also not the first time any of us NERRds at the GTM Research Reserve have visited another NERR. Check out a trip from [many] years ago when the Research staff went on a trip to visit our sister reserve in Sapelo Island, Georgia. The mosquitoes were worth it

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