Eric Brunden, Stewardship Coordinator at the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in Baldwin County, Alabama, was presented with the NERR System and NERR Association Award for Outstanding Contribution at the annual meeting of the national reserve system in New Jersey in November 2023.
Weeks Bay NERR was established in 1986 and is managed by the State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) NERR System.
“It is an honor to be recognized for my work at Weeks Bay,” Brunden said. “It is especially meaningful to me that this recognition comes from my peers.”
The NERR Association and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management Stewardship Division present this award each year to an individual or group who has demonstrated exemplary leadership and sustained commitment to the mission of the national reserve system.
“Eric has dedicated himself to the conservation of the estuary and surrounding habitats,” said Angela Underwood, Manager of Weeks Bay NERR. “He is most deserving of this honor. We are so grateful to have him on our team.”
Brunden began volunteering at Weeks Bay in 1999. During his time as a volunteer he worked on various education programs and became certified as an Alabama Water Watch monitor for the Weeks Bay Watershed Project, all while he pursued a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of South Alabama.
He was hired at Weeks Bay in 2000 to be the lead technician overseeing the Reserve’s system-wide monitoring program and routinely went above and beyond his required duties to implement special projects, including the establishment of a marsh bird monitoring program, securing funding from the Gulf of Mexico Foundation for restoration of the Reserve’s nature trail and conducting interviews with lifelong residents to acquire perspective on the historical ecology of the region.
In 2005, Brunden was promoted to Stewardship Coordinator at Weeks Bay. Through the years, Brunden has worked with numerous partners to conduct research, monitoring and habitat restoration within the Reserve. Partners have included seasoned professionals, students and young adults. He is also a certified prescribed burn manager and has worked with partners such as The Nature Conservancy to conduct annual prescribed burns on Reserve lands to restore fire-dependent ecosystems.
Additionally, Brunden serves as a mentor at Weeks Bay through various regional youth programs offered by the Eastern Shore Art Center, Baldwin County English as a Second Language programs, the H.L. Sonny Callahan School for the Deaf and Blind and local boys and girls clubs.
“Eric leads by example and truly embodies the best of what the national reserve system represents,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner. “We are very proud of Eric. I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of this award.”
Encompassing more than 9,000 acres of tidal and forested wetlands within a small estuary, the Weeks Bay NERR is surrounded by a variety of wetland habitats that receive freshwater from the Fish and Magnolia rivers in south Alabama. Fire-dependent, pitcher plant bogs at Weeks Bay contain a myriad of rare species and are easily accessible on the Reserve’s self-guided nature trails. Weeks Bay is one of 30 national estuarine reserves located in 23 states and Puerto Rico. Learn more about Weeks Bay NERR at www.outdooralabama.com/lands/weeks-bay-reserve.
ADCNR promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.