The North Carolina NERR, along with four other NERRs, is acting as a sentinel site to monitor climate change impacts on salt marsh habitat. This project involves creating a long-term ecological monitoring program to determine the effects of sea level rise, warmer temperatures, and coastal storms on salt marshes.


The four sites of the NCNERR – Currituck Banks, Zeke’s Island, Masonboro Island, and Rachel Carson – are comprised of marsh, beach, dune, and maritime forest habitat. Key management issues for these sites include water quality concerns, invasive species, erosion, atmospheric deposition, coastal storms, and sea level rise. NCNERR is also part of a national effort, created in 2007, to establish salt marshes as long-term reference sites at five reserves (Narragansett; Wells, Maine; Chesapeake Bay, Virginia; North Carolina; South Slough, Oregon). In addition, the reserve, along with other NERRs, participates in the System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP), tracking changes in water quality, plants, animals, and habitats within the reserve over time. Salt marshes, found at Zeke’s Island, Masonboro Island, and the Rachel Carson sites (Currituck Banks has brackish marshes), provide valuable habitat for fish, crabs, and other wildlife, and important ecosystem services by filtering water and protecting shorelines during strong coastal storms. Salt marshes at these sites are threatened by climate change; impacts of concern include sea level rise, warmer temperatures, coastal storms, salinity intrusion, and erosion.


This project is funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and has two goals: 1) use natural marshes as references to understand what is happening at restored marshes, and 2) use these natural reference sites to understand how marshes across the United States are responding to the impacts of climate change. The reserve is monitoring salt marsh characteristics (e.g., salinity, vegetation cover, flow patterns, peat soils) at natural marsh reference sites and recently restored marsh sites every year to track water levels and marsh height in order to determine if and how salt marshes can respond to sea level rise and other climate impacts.

Outcomes and Conclusions

This project will provide a long-term data set on salt marsh response to climate change impacts and inform a broader national effort. This information can be used in other restoration efforts.


Gregg, R. M. (2010). Sentinel Monitoring of Salt Marshes in the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve [Case study on a project of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated March 2010)

Project Contact(s)

North Carolina Coastal Reserve/NERR

The North Carolina Coastal Reserve (NCCR) and National Estuarine Research Reserve (NCNERR) is a network of ten protected sites established for long-term research, education, and stewardship. This program protects more than 41,000 acres of estuarine land and water, which provides essential habitat for wildlife; offers educational opportunities for students, teaches, and the public; and serves as living laboratories for scientists. The state-supported NCCR sites are Kitty Hawk Woods, Emily and Richardson Preyer Buckridge, Buxton Woods, Permuda Island, Bald Head Woods, and Bird Island.


Scale of Project
Community / Local
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Habitat extent
Salinization / Saltwater intrusion
Sea level rise
Storms or extreme weather events
Water temperature
Climate Type
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Initiate targeted research program
Monitor climate change impacts and adaptation efficacy
Taxonomic Focus
Other Invertebrates
Effort Stage
In progress