Bridging the gap between science and application

The mission of the Coastal Training Program (CTP) is to provide the most up-to-date scientific information and skill building tools, such as training, to key professionals (i.e.: local officials, land managers, natural resource managers, community planners, and coastal business owners) responsible for making decisions about coastal resources.

In addition to the resources and projects below, be sure to visit NOAA’s Digital Coast. This resource provides self-guided online training, training the GTM Research Reserve can host, as well as resources such as handouts, case studies, publications, videos, quick references, and more!

  • Group of people sitting at event
  • Flipchart with notes about oysters
  • Workshop attendees gathered around a table
  • Heritage Monitoring Scout training
  • Workshop attendees gathered around a table

State of the Reserve

The GTM Research Reserve is proud to host the State of the Reserve on Friday, February 28, 2020. The State of the Reserve will highlight a variety of projects within the Reserve boundaries including short-term and long-term projects where data can be applied to management decisions, modeling, coastal dynamics, habitat shifts, living shorelines, biodiversity, cultural awareness, water quality, restoration, understanding of the estuarine ecosystem, and more! Register today!

This year, State of the Reserve will feature an all-day scientific symposium, lunch poster session, and evening reception. Your registration will include:

  • 9:00 a.m.- 11:30 a.m., Presentations featuring visiting investigators, staff, and partners
  • 11:30 a.m.- 1:30 p.m., Lunch and Poster Presentations
  • 1:30 p.m.- 4:30 p.m., Presentations featuring visiting investigators, staff, and partners
  • 4:30 p.m.- 6:00 p.m., Networking Reception

New this year are State of the Reserve sponsorships! If you are interested in becoming a sponsor for State of the Reserve, please reach out to Friends of the GTM Reserve Executive Director, Ellen Leroy-Reed at or call 904-823-4526.

Be sure to register today as seating is limited!

Click below to view posters, presentations, and programs from previous symposiums:

  • 2010: “Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Reserve”
  • 2011: “Managing Partners”
  • 2012: “Preserving Public Lands to Sustain Healthy Communities”
  • 2014: “Changing Tides”
  • 2015: “Science to Management”
  • 2016: “Ecosystem Services”
  • 2017: “Working Waters”
  • 2018: “The Art of Science in Our Community”
  • 2019: “Celebrating 20 Years”

Coastal Connect

The Coastal Connect serves as a resource for our coastal community including key professionals such as local officials, land managers, natural resource managers, community plannings, coastal business owners, and anyone who is responsible for making decisions about our coastal resources. This quarterly resource is shared with all of the Coastal Training Program mailing lists, contact groups, working groups, committees, and advisory groups. The Coastal Training Program reaches across the northeast Florida region through the First Coast Invasive Working Group, the Oyster and Water Quality Task Force, the GTM Management Advisory Group, workshops, training events, collaborative meetings, and more!

We appreciate you taking a moment to read our updates, upcoming events, and visit shared resources. To subscribe, email


Natural Biodiversity

Invasive and Native Plants

An invasive plant is an introduced species of plant that usually comes from another place (state, country, continent, ocean; not all non-native species are considered invasive) and aggressively expands, becoming a problem in its new location by impacting human health, the economy, and/ or the environment. Invasive plants can spread in numerous ways including seeds in nursery plants and soils, misidentification, foreign ships entering ports, fruits and flowers brought home by travelers, or landscaping, boat trailers, propellers, etc. not properly cleaned before or after transportation.

Workshops and Trainings

The GTM Research Reserve’s CTP Coordinator serves as co-chair for the First Coast Invasive Working Group, coordinating on regional invasive species issues. The First Coast Invasive Working Group is one of sixteen Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMA). CISMAs are an alliance of stakeholders focused on invasive species management throughout the state of Florida. CISMAs work together to address prevention, early detection and rapid response, monitoring, management and education and awareness of invasive species. Each CISMA includes partners from federal, state, and local government agencies, tribes, private citizens, and interested community organizations that manage invasive species.

GTM Research Reserve staff can provide workshops on invasive plants and native alternatives for landscaping to interested groups including HOAs, landscape companies, and citizen organizations. Please contact the CTP Coordinator if you would like them to provide a workshop for your group.

Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR)

Early detection and rapid response is a coordinated set of actions to find and eradicate potential invasive species before they spread and cause harm. Early detection involves surveying for, reporting, and verifying the presence of a non-native species, before the population establishes or spreads so widely that eradication becomes infeasible. Rapid response is the process used to eliminate the initial population of a species from a specific location.

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

First Coast EDRR Species:

  •      Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia)
  •      Gray sheoak (Casuarina glauca)
  •      Old world climbing fern (Lygodium microphyllum)
  •      Skunk vine (Paederia foetida)
  •      Guinea grass (Panicum maximum)
  •      Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)
  •      Giant Salvinia (Salvinia molesta)
  •      Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolia)
  •      Tropical soda apple (Solanum viarum)
  •      Canary Island tamerisk (Tamarix canariensis)
  •      Beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia)



Water Quality

System-Wide Monitoring Program

The goal of the National Estuarine Research Reserve’s (NERRs) System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) is to measure short-term variability and long-term changes to gain a better understanding of how our estuaries function, change over time, and to predict how coastal systems respond to natural and human-induced change. SWMP is implemented at each one of the 29 NERRs across the country using standardized protocols and instruments. SWMP at the GTM Research Reserve is comprised of three core components: water quality, weather, and vegetation.

To learn about SWMP, check out these resources:


In 2015, the Oyster and Water Quality Task Force (OWQTF), originally formed in 1995 in response to shellfish harvesting closures, was revitalized to integrate and increase stakeholder knowledge of water quality and oyster sustainability within the Guana, Tolomato, and Matanzas rivers. Since then, the OWQTF has met three to four times annually to address the ongoing issues and data gaps regarding water quality and shellfish of the GTM Research Reserve region. The priority of the group is to assess the current status of oysters and water quality and to develop strategies and actions that will maximize their health. The task force provides research findings and recommendations to management agencies and other stakeholders. Information includes water quality as it relates to storm events, oyster settlement, fecal coliform hotspots, oyster harvesting data including size classes, monitoring protocol dissemination, predator presence, shellfish harvesting status, and more.

The OWQTF is a voluntary group representing agency, academic, and community stakeholders concerned about the health of our estuarine waters and the capacity to harvest oysters for generations to come. At these meetings, representatives from Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Servies (FDACS), St. Johns County, Flagler County, City of St. Augustine, the Matanzas Riverkeeper, Florida SeaGrant, University of North Florida, Flagler College, University of Florida (including the Whitney Laboratory of Marine Biosciences), local homeowners, and local oyster harvesters have been present. The CTP Coordinator co-chairs the task force with the GTM NERR Research Coordinator.

For more information, visit the Oyster and Water Quality Task Force website.

Guana Water Quality Project

Inspired by momentous community interest in the health of Guana Lake, multiple sponsors, including the Audubon Society and the Friends of the GTM Research Reserve, generously funded an initial year of water quality sampling and subsequent laboratory analyses starting in July 2017. A partnership between the GTM Research Reserve, Northeast Florida Aquatic Preserves, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was formed to collect monthly water samples. Samples were collected from three sites in Guana Lake (Micklers, Lake Middle, Lake South) and two sites in the Guana River (River North and Guana River). After the one-year pilot study, additional resources were provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration (DEAR) and FWC. Starting in July 2018, an additional five sampling sites were added, and all ten sites were sampled for a full year.

The main objective of this study effort was to quantify spatial/temporal variability of selected water quality parameters within the Guana system. Water quality observations in this system have been very limited historically and this study aimed to develop a baseline survey of water quality over a variety of seasonal conditions and a spatial gradient. Secondary objectives included assessing current water quality conditions and studying hydrologic connections at Mickler’s weir and Guana dam.

The GTM Research Reserve recently released a two-year summary report for the Guana water quality project. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Nikki Dix.


Our Resilient Community

People like to live near the water, especially our estuaries and the ocean. And why not? Research has shown that being near the water has a list of benefits for our mind and body— there are also economic opportunities that our coastline can provide. In 2016, the U.S. Census reported that there are 15,540,032 people that reside in Florida’s coastal shoreline counties and more people are moving to the coast every day (National Coastal Population Report). More locally, there has been an over 300% population increase in in population change in St. Johns County between 1970 and 2010–  several of us reading this may have contributed to this growth (National Coastal Population Report).

With increased population along coastlines, there is a need to increase built infrastructure such as coastal commerce, development, job opportunities, sewer connections, and roadways. With the recent increase of coastal hazards such as flooding, storm surge, and hurricanes, those that live within our coastal communities and the built infrastructure (new and old) are at risk of coastal hazards. The actions and planning of our coastal communities are important in maintaining balance of quality of life, the natural environment, and more.

Every community faces hazardous threats such as droughts, extreme temperatures, flooding, wildfires, population pressures, material spills, and more. Resiliency means that our community can “bounce back” after those hazardous events, such as stock market crashes, droughts, the wildfires in 1998, Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Irma, common nor’easters, and even coastal flooding events. It means that we will be able to withstand, respond to, and recover quickly after hazardous events without significant or long-term damage to our natural resources, cultural assets, economy, and infrastructure and critical facilities.

The impacts of hazards such as climate change, including sea level rise, are happening now and will bring challenges to our coastal community. It is important to improve resiliency within our community to preserve the values, natural ecosystems, agriculture, and quality of life.

Weather VS. Climate Change
Weather is what you experience when you step outside on any given day. It indicates what the short-term temperature, precipitation, and overall conditions will be like. Most days in Florida, the weather is sunny and humid with our regular afternoon shower.

Climate change is the average of the weather patterns in a location over a longer period of time, usually 30 years or more (NOAA). While the conditions are described as hot or cold and wet or dry, which really describe the air conditions, they are influenced by what is happening on land and in the water. The climate of the Earth is changing (NCA, 2018). These changes are observed not only through monitoring data, but also more extreme temperature changes, increased heavy precipitation events, wildlife and plants migrating and living in regions they never lived before. We see first blooms earlier in the year and growing seasons are extended. Ice sheets and glaciers are melting contributing to sea level changes and there is less snow cover observed through satellite observations (IPCC and NASA).

According to, since 1980, the United States has experienced 241 “billion-dollar” weather and climate disasters, similar to the map below. The cumulative costs of these disasters exceeds $1.6 trillion. The weather and climate disasters from 2018 cost $91.0 billion in economic and societal impacts.

Sea Level Effects
Sea level change is the change in the average ocean water surface elevation—or height. It can be expressed at a global, regional, or local level. This change can be measured by tidal gauges that are referenced to nearby land benchmarks. The NOAA National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON) collects accurate water level changes throughout lakes, estuaries, and oceans for many services including navigation, engineering, and preservation.

Through the National Science Foundation, Villanova University and a team of researchers are monitoring how our saltmarsh habitats are transitioning into mangrove habitats as a result of warming temperatures and sea level rise. While in natural ecosystems, these saltmarsh habitats are able to migrate eastward, in areas where development is placed along shorelines, the saltmarsh habitat cannot migrate. Saltmarsh habitats are crucial to our coastal community not only because they provide habitat to juvenile fishes, but also because they decrease the rate of erosion and absorb storm surge.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office for Coastal Management hosts tools and resources through Digital Coast. One tool that helps describe complex coastal data is “Coastal County Snapshots”. This tool reflects the high-risk populations within FEMA floodplains, critical facilities within FEMA floodplains, and the acreage of land that has been converted to development. In addition to looking at flood exposure county-by-county, this tool shares the economic benefits that are ocean-related including tourism, boating, living resources, marine construction, and more. In St. Johns county, 13.8% of the total jobs are ocean-related. Knowing how our community is employed is a key component of being resilient.

Sea level rise impacts should not only be thought of as coastal flooding, but also saltwater intrusion. Saltwater intrusion impacts the freshwater located beneath our feet in the underground aquifers, known as groundwater. In Florida, the layers of limestone and sandstone that hold groundwater provide 90% of our drinking and agricultural use water.  For more information about Florida’s aquifers, visit the St. Johns River Water Management District Groundwater in coastal communities is increasingly at risk due to changes in precipitation, withdrawal rates, and sea level rise. Along the coast, groundwater and saltwater from the ocean are naturally separated, but as sea levels rise, the amount of saltwater intrusion into groundwater will increase. This could bring difficulties for providing freshwater drinking sources, increasing treatment costs at water facilities, increased corrosion on municipal infrastructure, and challenges irrigating agricultural lands as well as challenges with natural drainage in flooded low-lying areas.

Opportunity to Mitigate and Improve Resiliency
With our coastal community seeing more extreme events, there are greater risks that our community will be facing. This requires leaders to make resilient steps in decision making.  There are many resources that can guide communities to become more resilient, but they all follow the same steps:

  1. Determine which hazards our community is vulnerable to. The Fourth National Climate Assessment would be a good resource that can describe the potential hazards.
  2. Identify our community’s assets that the hazards could pose a threat to.
  3. Explore possible solutions for our those risks and review how others have responded to similar issues. Cities and counties across the country are willing to share their mitigation strategies and response steps.
  4. Evaluate the costs, benefits, and capacity to accomplish each action. Regularly remind the team about the goal. Be sure to track the hazards and possible solutions. A great resource that will help document the steps to resilience can be downloaded here.

Sustainable Public Use

Living shorelines use plants or other nature elements such as oyster reefs to stabilize the shorelines of estuarine coasts. Living shorelines can help improve water quality, provide habitat for fisheries, increase biodiversity, and allow for increased recreation.

Living shorelines are more resilient to storms than traditional hard armoring. Hard armoring such as bulkheads or seawalls can prevent the natural marsh migration and could accelerate or create coastal erosion. The marshes and oyster reefs of natural and living shorelines serve as natural barriers to waves, storm surge, and coastal erosion. Approximately 15% of marsh can absorb 50% of an incoming wave energy.

Whether you are a homeowner, coastal engineer, or restoration practitioner, visit the Living Shorelines Academy to see current projects, resources, and even training modules. Also, be sure to watch Living Shorelines: A Habitat Friendly Alternative for Shoreline Stabilization a video made by the North Carolina NERR Coastal Training Program.

 Re-Engineering Living Shorelines for High-Energy Coastal Environments

The GTM Research Reserve was a part of a National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) Science Collaborative grant-funded project with the University of Florida from 2016 to 2019. Shorelines and salt marsh habitats within the GTM Research Reserve have been retreating at rates of 1 meter per year (Silliman et al. 2019) which has led to a loss of intertidal oysters, a loss of habitat, and a loss of ecosystem services. A potential stressor of this is boat wake energy, which, like oceanic boat traffic, is also increasing within our estuaries.

This project, in partnership with Christine Angelini, Ph.D, et al. from the University of Florida, designed a hybrid structure that acted as a double barrier to dissipate wave energy along the Intracoastal Waterway in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The team’s approach consisted of two lines of defense to protect the salt marsh. The first structure was a set of semi-permeable breakwalls filled with crepe myrtle branches. Landward side of those structures were alternating oyster restoration structures of 1) oyster shell filled gabions and 2) Biodegradable EcoSystem Engineering Elements (BESE-elements).

Above: Boat wake in the Intracoastal Waterway affects the breakwalls

Above: Breakwalls with crepe myrtle branches and oyster restoration structures

Intracoastal Monitoring System

 Shoreline erosion is a main threat and challenge that has been identified by regional restoration practitioners, land managers, and researchers. One conclusion gained from Dr. Christine Angelini’s NERRS Science Collaborative project “Re-Engineering Living Shorelines for High-Energy Coastal Environments” was that little is known about the extent of boat activity in the Intracoastal Waterway. Some of the larger commercial boats are tracked using on-vessel automatic identification system (AIS) transponders, but most small vessels used for recreation do not require that level of tracking. In February 2019, University of Florida graduate student Lauren Brisley and the GTM Research Reserve began monitoring boat traffic and boat wake energy at a site along the Guana Peninsula and Tolomato River. Lauren partnered with dedicated GTM volunteers to assist with data downloads and video analysis for the near-continuous video monitoring of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Above: Volunteers are trained at the video camera tower on the Guana Peninsula.

Additional Information



Cultural Resources

Monitoring Archaeological Resources

Partnering with the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN), Heritage Monitoring Scouts is a public engagement program focused on tracking changes to archaeological sites at risk, particularly those impacted by climate change in the form of erosion and sea level rise.

Help monitor the thousands of resources within Florida and over 50 within the GTM Research Reserve boundaries. Become a Heritage Monitoring Scout, today!

Emergency Preparedness

Prepare yourself, your family, your home, and your business!

Living along the coast in Florida comes with many benefits and advantages, but as residents of coastal communities, we must be aware of our vulnerability to natural hazards. Develop preparedness plans before an event threatens the coast, know your evacuation zone, and take steps to prepare your homes and businesses.

Local Hurricane Preparedness Plans



Community Engagement

Management Advisory Group (MAG)

The GTMNERR Management Advisory Group (MAG) holds regular meetings on the third Wednesday of the third month of each calendar quarter of the year. Meeting agenda items are finalized approximately two weeks prior to the meeting. The MAG is comprised of 26 members from partnering agencies as well as twelve citizen appointees. The purpose of the MAG is to:

  • Assist the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in an advisory capacity by providing recommendations to DEP on matters associated with the implementation of the GTMNERR Management Plan regarding environmental education, scientific research, and resource management strategies,;
  • Review and make recommendations to DEP on proposals for amendments to the GTMNERR management plan;
  • Assist DEP in maintaining effective interagency coordination and communication among federal, state, and local governmental agencies and the public on issues regarding the management of the reserve;
  • Support the seeking of funding to provide for land acquisition, facilities development and maintenance, scientific research, environmental monitoring, environmental education, equipment purchases, general operations expenses, and any other purpose necessary for the effective functioning of the reserve; and,
  • Serve as an advisory group to the GTMNERR Coastal Training Program to guide the program to address needs of the stakeholder groups which the MAG represents.

Upcoming Meetings:

  • March 18, 2020, 6:00 pm, at the Visitor Center (505 Guana River Road, Ponte Vedra Beach)
  • June 17, 2020, 6:00 pm, at the Marineland Field Office (9741 Ocean Shore Blvd., St. Augustine)
  • September 16, 2020, 6:00 pm, at the Visitor Center (505 Guana River Road, Ponte Vedra Beach)
  • December 16, 2020, 6:00 pm, at the Marineland Field Office (9741 Ocean Shore Blvd., St. Augustine)

Partnering Organizations and Agencies

The GTM Research Reserve CTP is privileged to work closely with many local and regional stakeholders and partners throughout northeast Florida:

Southeast and Caribbean Regional Coastal Training Programs