MOSS LANDING — On May 9, Kerstin Wasson, Ph.D., Research Coordinator for the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR) received the 2018 National Wetlands Award for Science Research presented by the Environmental Law Institute in a ceremony at the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C. The prestigious award recognizes Dr. Wasson’s extraordinary commitment to the conservation and restoration of our nation’s wetlands.
For more than 18 years, Dr. Wasson has distinguished herself as a researcher, conservationist, and mentor at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve — one of California’s few remaining coastal wetlands and the largest tract of tidal salt marsh south of San Francisco Bay — and as a leader of collaborative projects that span the network of National Estuarine Reserve Reserves.
“We have a secret weapon to help protect our nation’s estuaries — Kerstin Wasson,” says Elkhorn Slough Reserve Manager Dave Feliz. “She thinks deeply about estuarine issues, initiates and implements investigations into these issues, applies the findings toward solutions-based actions, and communicates all aspects of the process in an engaging and effective manner.”
Wasson’s work at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve includes developing and implementing comprehensive long-term monitoring programs, facilitating research by other scientists, mentoring student researchers, informing coastal decision makers, and guiding an ambitious ecosystem-based management initiative to restore vanishing tidal wetlands. In addition to these responsibilities, Wasson also maintains her own active research projects in wetland conservation, focusing on threats to estuarine ecosystems and species.
“I’m passionate about taking care of Elkhorn Slough, one small, special wetland. But a lot of the joy in my work comes from being part of a collaborative network of folks who are passionate about their special wetlands, across the 29 National Estuarine Research Reserves,” says Wasson.
Wasson also leads pioneering work on the ecology and restoration of native oysters in California bays and estuaries, and has developed a network of collaborators on the Pacific coast, from Baja California to British Columbia, who have authored a series of publications for scientific and management audiences.
As a key part of her work at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve, Wasson coordinates a comprehensive long-term monitoring program for Elkhorn Slough, engaging volunteers in all aspects of the work, from collecting water quality data to counting migratory shorebirds to tracking nesting at a heron rookery. With Wasson’s support and guidance, two of these citizen scientists recently published a peer-reviewed paper on sea otter behavior and ecology in an esteemed scientific journal.
“Some of my finest colleagues are volunteers. It is an honor to work with these citizen scientists, and without this community support we could not keep our finger on the pulse of the wetland,” says Wasson.
Dovetailing with her work at the Reserve, Wasson is an Adjunct Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, mentoring graduate students on thesis subjects ranging from threatened red-legged frogs to sea otters, from eelgrass restoration to salt marsh ecology. Her evolving effort in conservation science continues to inspire the next generation of researchers and land stewards.
Since 1989, the National Wetlands Awards Program has honored more than 200 champions of wetlands conservation. In 2013, Mark Silberstein, Executive Director of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, was honored with the National Wetlands Award for Wetland Community Leader.
The Elkhorn Slough Foundation (ESF) is a community-supported non-profit land trust whose mission is to conserve and restore the Elkhorn Slough and its watershed. ESF protects nearly 4,000 acres of rare habitat including oak woodlands, maritime chaparral, and wetlands. For more information on Elkhorn Slough Foundation and the Reserve, visit www.elkhornslough.org.