The History of CERF

The Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation is a private, not-for-profit, and non-partisan organization. The Federation was created in 1971 when the members of two older, regionally-based estuarine research societies (AERS and NEERS) decided that a national organization was needed to address estuarine and coastal issues more broadly. This page was developed for the 50th anniversary of CERF in 2021. Here we reflect on our rich history as a society, the past 50 years of estuarine and coastal research, and the successes in translating that science into effective management, education, and outreach. With this historical context, we have the opportunity to pivot to looking ahead to the next 50 years of coastal science and management, identifying the grand challenges we face in the coming decades, and looking for solutions to address them.

CERF’s Up! articles

The first 3 issues of CERF’s Up! during 2021 (Volume 47) have multiple articles that reflect the conference theme, “Celebrating Our Past, Charting Our Future.” These articles are about 50 years of CERF as an organization and a longer history of research, education and management of estuaries and coasts. Successful science and wise management is borne from evaluating our history to advance understanding and predictive analysis.

Two articles focus specifically on the early history of the organization. Alan Young, historian of the New England Estuarine Research Society (NEERS), was particularly helpful in setting the historical perspective. He provided a brief history of the first Estuarine Research Federation (ERF) meeting in 1971 in Plainview, NY, and a copy of the first program (CERF’s UP! 47 (1): 2-4). An abridged version of “The Searchers: A Short History of the Estuarine Research Federation during Its First Ten Years of Existence” by Jerome Williams is in the second issue of Vol. 47. It is an informative and humorous summary of the informal federation of our early years, told as only Jerry could. 

Other articles describe aspects of history of CERF or its members. The second and third issues have a two part history recollections by ERF members of a People to People trip to the People’s Republic of China in 1983. The third issue has Leila Hamdan’s perspective of her upcoming presidential term in the context of past presidents and their contributions to the Federation.

We also invited CERF members to submit manuscripts and documents that captured how past, present, and future hypotheses and research connect to our understanding and management of estuaries. This included a general invitation to the membership and requests to former CERF officers and award winners. These experts were asked simply to choose a topic within their expertise and run with it. They could address the topic any way they wished, including reviews, personal stories, and opinions. We prompted them with a few possible questions: How has the field changed; how have guiding paradigms come and gone; how has technology and methodology changed; what may the future hold? Then we got out of the way.

Issue 1 has the following theme-related articles:

  • Nekton Ecology: Origins, Progress, and Prospects for the Next 50 Years (Dennis Allen)
  • Early Efforts to Culture Microscopic Oyster Larvae, 1878–1920 (Vic Kennedy)
  • Seagrasses: A Half-Century of Progress and a Look to the Future (Bob Orth, Ken Heck, Jon Lefcheck, and Jessi Jarvis)
  • Diagnostic Timescales: Old Concepts, New Methods, and the Ageless Power of Simplification (Lisa Lucas and Eric Deleersnijder)

Issue 2 has these:

  • Expanding CERF’s Horizon: Synthesizing Human and Climatic Drivers of Change Along the Freshwater to Marine Continuum (Hans Paerl and Joey Crosswell)
  • The Origins of Biogeochemistry (Tom Bianchi)

Issue 3 has these:

  • Talking Benthic Ecology: The Old and the New, the Non-Changed and the Changed (Cassandra Glaspie and Nancy N. Rabalais)

 We hope you find the articles informative and thought provoking.

Oral histories of CERF through StoryCorps

CERF prides itself in being an open, friendly and egalitarian organization, and these attributes go back to its beginnings. We have tried to capture the history of CERF through the personal stories of its members. We hope that these stories help to show these attributes and provide examples for the future human side of this professional organization.

The stories are being told through StoryCorps, a non-profit organization that provides a platform, in addition to mechanisms and instructions to conduct and archive interviews. Archiving is done through the Library of Congress, allowing a long-term record of interviews. 

The first ERF meeting, in 1971, joined the Atlantic Estuarine Research Society (AERS) and New England Estuarine Research Society (NEERS). AERS and NEERS celebrated this event with a joint meeting in April 2021. They employed StoryCorps and served as pioneers for CERF’s efforts. Their interviews are in “communities” with the StoryCorps archives:

CERF has a community as well. It contains a number of the interviews in the previous communities and more:

We are inviting you to participate and submit an interview that fits the theme! We hope that you will use StoryCorps to conduct an interview, for example, between you and your mentor/mentee. We are also interested in capturing the memories of long-serving CERF members. Get together virtually with a person who has influenced your career, CERF, or CERF’s disciplines. Record your interview with them! We recommend StoryCorps Connect, an app designed specifically for the task. It will allow you to conduct and archive the interview. Here is the link to a YouTube video tutorial.

 CERF 2021 Presidents' Town Hall 

The CERF Leadership led a town hall at CERF 2021 to learn about CERF’s 50-year history from the folks at the helm – our Presidents. This session featured moderated discussion with CERF’s Past Presidents dating back to 1985, our current outgoing and incoming President, and our newest President-Elect. Moderated by CERF 2021 Co-Chair Mark Brush, President Jim Fourqurean, and President-Elect Leila Hamdan, we asked our Presidents to reflect on CERF’s history and the role it has played in shaping the science and management of estuaries and coasts over the last five decades. Panelists offered their insights into how CERF should continue to play a leading role in our field over the coming decades, and to challenge our membership for how best to move us forward. Audience members were encouraged to come with questions which were fielded following the moderated discussion. Watch the recording of the CERF 2021 President's Town Hall.