Research, education, outreach and stewardship along Lake Superior’s coast

The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve is a member of the National Estuarine Reserve System, a network of 29 reserves across the United States designated for long-term research on coastal resources and the human populations those resources support. The Lake Superior Reserve is one of only two estuarine reserves in the Reserve System located in the Great Lakes. This makes the research we and our partners conduct all the more vital to the understanding of freshwater resources and the health of the Great Lakes, which hold more than 20 percent of the Earth’s surface freshwater.

Our reserve is centered on the St. Louis River Estuary between Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota. However, we envision a Lake Superior where all coastal watersheds and estuaries are understood, valued and thriving. To accomplish this, we prioritize work on climate change, water quality, healthy ecosystems, strengthening communities and developing a sense of place.


The Reserve works in partnership to improve the understanding of Lake Superior’s coast and estuaries. We address issues affecting the watershed through integration of research, education, outreach and stewardship.

where we work

St. Louis River Estuary

The Lake Superior Reserve spans more than 16,000 acres on the Wisconsin side of the confluence of the St. Louis River and Lake Superior—the largest and most pristine of the Great Lakes. The Reserve adjoins the Superior-Duluth harbor, which has been the economic center of the Twin Ports region for over a century and remains the largest freshwater port in the world.

Explore the Estuary


Located on
Barker’s Island
in Superior, Wisconsin

14 Marina Drive
Superior, Wisconsin 54880
Get Directions

Our Facilities
Lake Superior Reserve headquarters


National Network,
Local Partners

The Lake Superior Reserve works in partnership with scientists from many local, state, tribal and federal agencies, including the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute and Wisconsin Coastal Management Program.

Our landowning partners are the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, City of Superior, Douglas County and the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Several other partnering agencies, from both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa also sit on our Reserve Advisory Board.

We work with researchers from local universities, Wisconsin and Minnesota natural and cultural resources agencies and from federal agencies, such as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Reserve Advisory Board

map showing locations of 29 Reserves throughout the United States

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System includes 29 reserves in 23 states and Puerto Rico


Designated in 2010

Designated in 2010, the Lake Superior Reserve is a part of the larger National Estuarine Research Reserve System. The reserve system was established through the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act and protects more than 1.3 million acres within 29 reserves in 23 states and Puerto Rico. Each estuarine reserve is managed in partnership between its home state and the NOAA. The Lake Superior Reserve is the second reserve designated on the Great Lakes.

Ribbon cutting ceremony at Lake Superior Reserve office

Frequently Asked Questions

In the most general terms, an estuary is an ecosystem, comprising both the biological and physical environment, that has developed in a region where rivers meet the sea and fresh-flowing river water mingles with tidal salt water to become brackish, or partly salty. However, several types of wholly freshwater ecosystems have many characteristics similar to what we think of as traditional brackish estuaries.

For example, along the Great Lakes, river water with very different chemical and physical characteristics mingles with lake water in coastal wetlands that are affected by tides and storms just as estuaries along the oceanic coasts are. These freshwater “estuaries” also provide many of the ecosystem services and functions that brackish estuaries do, serving for example as natural filters for runoff and as nursery grounds for many species of birds, fish, and other animals.

Whether salt- or freshwater, estuaries have certain properties that make them distinctive and extremely valuable to the larger natural system, as well as to human health and well-being.

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The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 29 coastal sites designated to protect and study estuarine systems. Established through the Coastal Zone Management Act, the reserves represent a partnership program between NOAA and the coastal states. NOAA provides funding and national guidance, and each site is managed on a daily basis by a lead state agency or university with input from local partners.

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