THE SAPELO ISLAND NATIONAL ESTUARINE SANCTUARY (SINERR):
After two federal studies in the 1960’s
showed that nearly all of the U.S. estuaries were being destroyed,
damaged, or reduced in size through development and pollution, the National
Estuarine Sanctuary Program was established through the Coastal Zone
Management Act of 1971. The Program, administered through the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), would provide up to 50
percent matching grants to coastal states for acquiring estuarine areas.
The purpose was to identify relatively undisturbed examples of different
types of estuaries and protect them so they could be used as standards
to measure the effects of human activities on similar coastal wetlands.
The first sanctuary was established in September 1976 in Coos Bay, Oregon.
Sapelo Island was chosen as an example
of southeastern marshes representative of the Carolinian Biogeographic
Province (the area between Cape Hatteras and Cape Canaveral).
Also, a long succession of Marine Institute scientists already had assembled
a considerable body of work describing the saltmarsh ecosystem, and
a resident staff continued to add to it. Largely because of the
latter factor, on December 22, 1976, Sapelo Island’s wetlands became the
second estuarine sanctuary to be designated by NOAA. The Sapelo Island
Research Foundation agreed to sell the south end of the island to the
State of Georgia for a nominal fee to accomplish this. The State
of Georgia (Heritage Trust) contributed $2 million, the Heritage Conservation
and Recreation Service contributed $500,000 and NOAA provided a matching
grant of $1,500,000.
Announced as a “Christmas present to
the people of the Nation,” the 7400-acre sanctuary designated for
protection the southern portion of Sapelo Island, the entire Duplin
River, adjacent wetlands, and surrounding areas. With watershed
areas protected as well as the estuarine ecosystem, the Sapelo Island
National Estuarine Sanctuary was declared “a natural laboratory for scientific
research and education.”
Stewardship of the Sapelo Island Estuarine
Research Reserve is the responsibility of the Georgia Department
of Natural Resources (DNR), which leased 1575 acres to the University
System Board of Regents to continue the activities of The University
of Georgia’s Marine Institute.
In accepting sanctuary designation, certain
obligations regarding research and education were incurred by the
State. The DNR has responsibility for monitoring the environment
to establish baseline conditions in an undisturbed area and providing
interpretive programs to help the general public gain an understanding
of estuarine ecology.
In 1986, the name of the National Estuarine
Sanctuary Program was changed by NOAA to reflect more adequately the
role intended for it. The change to the “National Estuarine Research
Reserve System” also precipitated change in nomenclature at the local
level to the “Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve.”
Seventeen areas in the Nation now carry the designation of National
Estuarine Research Reserves.