Now You See Them: Wetland Wildlife on the Move

The Takeaway: Scientists across the National Estuarine Research Reserve System have conducted the first-ever North American inventory of coastal wetland wildlife using 140 cameras in 29 estuaries.

A fox with light brown fur jumps through the tall grasses of an expansive wetland, with its snout pointed toward the ground.
Foxes, like this one in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve, are very skilled hunters. They use their exceptional hearing to detect rodents digging underground and then pounce high in the air upon their unsuspecting next meal.
A deer stands in a field
A deer stops and poses in Grand Bay Reserve in Mississippi.

In a groundbreaking effort, scientists from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which safeguards over 1.4 million acres, completed the first-ever comprehensive North American coastal wetland wildlife inventory. They used 140 cameras in 29 estuaries to reveal diverse species, from Alaskan bears to Hawaiian ducks, illuminating elusive estuary life.

An egret takes flight with wings outstretched from a body of water
An egret takes off after exploring the waters of Jobos Bay Reserve in Puerto Rico.

The camera traps unveiled 150 species. Previously, it was difficult to research wetland animal life without disturbing the animals, and this new use of cameras to remotely monitor them has proved extremely beneficial to data collection. Deployed in summer 2022 across 29 reserves, with 15 of those sites monitored for an entire year, the camera traps offer valuable data on species diversity, behavior, and abundance. The collaboration among the research reserves transcended borders to address coastal management needs.

A hawk flies towards the camera
A hawk flies towards the camera in Tijuana Reserve in California.

Initial findings commonly revealed deer and coyotes, with unexpected appearances of feral hogs and cows. The presence of raptors, hoofed animals, and canids (foxes and coyotes) was noted across most regions. As their research progresses, the team aims to study invasive and endangered species and improve future wildlife research methods. The collected data set will advance wetland camera traps as a research tool.

A heron points its beak in the air very close to the camera in front of grassy wetlands
Peek-a-boo! A heron pops up to say hello in Narragansett Bay Reserve in Rhode Island.

The research reserves’ wildlife camera trapping project has unlocked a treasure trove of insights into the inhabitants of coastal wetlands. This endeavor not only showcases the biodiversity of these crucial ecosystems but also underscores the power of collaboration, innovation, and public engagement in advancing our understanding of the natural world. (2023)

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Partners: NOAA, National Estuarine Research Reserve System, National Estuarine Research Reserve Association, Pew Charitable Trusts, The Nature Trust of British Columbia, University of San Diego, University of the Virgin Islands, Saint Mary's University of Halifax, Nova Scotia