On December 22, 2016, the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR) celebrated its fortieth anniversary. The 6,100-acre reserve covers a swath along the western and southern flanks of Sapelo Island, including the UGAMI campus. SINERR’s research and education initiatives focus on the natural ecosystems, cultural resources, and history of Sapelo Island and the surrounding estuary.
There is a long tradition of collaboration between UGAMI and SINERR; the two organizations have been intimately linked since SINERR’s inception. SINERR is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, a network of 28 reserves spread out among coastal states. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System was created by the federal Coastal Zone Management Act in 1972, with the mission “to practice and promote stewardship of coasts and estuaries through innovative research, education and training using a place-based system of protected areas.” Research conducted at UGAMI helped convince Congress that America’s estuaries needed enhanced protection, and thus created the Coastal Zone Management Act and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. Given UGAMI’s pioneering leadership in estuarine science and Georgia’s commitment to protecting coastal ecosystems, it was not surprising that one of America’s first National Estuarine Research Reserves was sited here at Sapelo Island.
The National Estuarine Research Reserves operate as partnerships between coastal states and the federal government (under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). In SINERR’s case, the lead state agency is the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
SINERR celebrated its anniversary at several events throughout the year, culminating in a ceremony at the Atlas Conference Center on the UGAMI campus at which UGAMI Director Merryl Alber presented the original plaque designating the Reserve to the Reserve Manager, Doug Samson. The plaque dates back to the original dedication ceremony held at UGAMI in 1976 during which SINERR was created. Signed by Governor George Busbee, the plaque had been on display in UGAMI’s main lab building for the past 40 years. It now resides in SINERR’s headquarters.