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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

UW-Green Bay Is Working To Become A National Estuarine Research Reserve

The Peacemaker sails toward the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge on it's journey into the Port of Green Bay.
Chris Rand
Wikimedia Commons
The Peacemaker sails toward the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge on it's journey into the Port of Green Bay.

The bay of Green Bay is massive. In fact, it carries the distinction of being the largest freshwater estuary in the world. The bay is also a Petri dish of challenges, from agricultural runoff to toxic algal bloom. The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has long been studying these issues and is now on the cusp of a major boost in its research capacity.

The university is in the process of becoming a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). Largely funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Green Bay will become the third NERR on the Great Lakes and the 30th across the country. The multiyear process will result in a facility somewhere on the estuary that will be both a visitor center and research hub.

Marissa Jablonski, with the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, and Emily Tyner, the director of freshwater strategy at UW-Green Bay, say that the NERR site will serve a large number of communities and function as a meeting place for education and research.

“This preserve as it’s currently designated, will be designated, will represent the Lake Michigan / Lake Huron biogeographic region, which is a huge region. So that means that although the research will be in the waters of Green Bay, programmatically, the education focus will be quite broad — opportunities for training, for participating in programs will have a larger footprint and reach,” Tyner explains.

Jablonski says students all across Wisconsin will be greatly benefited by the NERR. “We have both pre-college outreach plans, K-12, we’re working with the Department of Public Instruction to try to get out to high schools all over Wisconsin and then also post-college, we’re looking into creating an internship program that really reaches out to really, not just industry and nonprofit organizations, but also policymakers, governmental organizations,” she says.

While Green Bay has had its myriad of challenges, Tyner says there has been improvement in the last few years that the NERR hopes to build off of. She cites the delisting Menominee River as an Area of Concern by the EPA in August 2020 as one win for freshwater.

“There’s this tremendous cleanup that’s already happened but there’s certainly challenges into the future, so hopefully the NERR can help coordinate and think about and design what that future around water looks like,” Tyner says.

The Green Bay NERR, which won’t be completed for several more years, is already building collaboration through its site development committee. Partnerships with the Oneida Nation and sport and conservation group Ducks Unlimited have been cemented with members of both groups serving on the committee. Tyner says she wants the NERR to serve as a model for collaboration around water for more communities to emulate.

“We would love to see the Green Bay, northeast Wisconsin highlighted as a model for other places that have industry and researchers working side-by-side in watersheds and the same thing with wetland restoration,” she says.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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