Strategic Goals

sunrise over docks

What is SERC?

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) provides science-based knowledge to meet critical environmental challenges.  SERC leads objective research on coastal ecosystems—where land meets the sea—to inform real-world decisions for wise policies, best business practices, and a sustainable planet. 

As the leading environmental research institute of the world’s largest museum complex, SERC’s headquarters comprise 2,650 acres of diverse landscape and 15 miles of protected shoreline on the nation’s largest estuary - Chesapeake Bay – just 25 miles from the nation’s capital.  The site serves as a natural laboratory for long-term and cutting edge ecological research.  Here we are exploring the most pressing issues affecting the environment, including toxic chemicals, water quality, invasive species, land use, fisheries, and global change.  SERC also explains environmental science in innovative ways that change how people view the biosphere and inspire them to take an active role in sustainable stewardship of the Earth.   SERC leads networks of research and education extending across both coasts of the U.S. and around the planet.

What does SERC do?

Our strategic and master plans seek to discover solutions to unprecedented environmental impacts and change in the Anthropocene Period – the age of humans – which urgently require pragmatic management decisions based on sound science:

  • Lead research on global change, pollution by toxic chemicals and nutrients, land-use management, over-fishing, and invasive species in coastal ecosystems.
  • Lead Smithsonian signature programs on ecosystems for:
  • Global Earth Observatory networks (GEO) for forest ecosystems (Forest GEO) and coastal marine ecosystems (Marine GEO).
  • Conservation Commons through preservation and restoration of crucial forests and coastal ecosystems.
  • Biogenomics through applications of genomic tools in ecology.
  • Lead development and implementation of Participatory Science linked tightly to the Smithsonian’s and SERC's research networks and partnerships.
  • Develop facilities and manage SERC’s site on Chesapeake Bay as a unique research platform and model for landscape sustainability, integrating research, education, and stewardship for environmental resources.
  • Develop SERC resources and facilities for workshops and conferences to convene the best minds across disciplines to solve the toughest environmental problems.

Why now?

Our work is urgent - the world’s coastal zones are home to more than 70 percent of the global population and experience intensive economic activity.  The rate of environmental change and the complex interactions of human impacts are accelerating at an alarming rate. Since its founding nearly 50 years ago, SERC has been conducting world-class, peer-reviewed research to understand the causes and consequences to accelerating environmental change.

Priority Actions and Solutions

We seek to provide solutions to urgent environmental issues in the daily news.  Our research provides a river of positive examples:

  • Reduction of mercury pollution into the food chain and seafood
  • One of the few successful models in the world of science-informed fishery recovery and management
  • Valuation and measures of carbon sequestration of coastal ecosystems
  • Land management strategies for reduction of nutrient pollution
  • Effective strategies for coastal shoreline stabilization
  • Conservation of declining coastal fish stocks, such as river herring
  • Invasive species management: Ship ballast water management; national data bases of invasive species
  • Operational knowledge of crucial ecosystems: forests, wetlands, estuaries, mangroves
  • Integration of information across landscapes and networks to advise managers, like the Chesapeake Bay Program

We seek to inform, educate and engage people in science-based solutions for the environment:

  • Nationally and internationally recognized Intern, graduate and post-doctoral  student programs train the next generation of research scientists and natural resource managers
  • Participatory Science to gather new data and to engage them in the process of using science effectively for answers.
  • Engage our world-class science with business leaders, policy makers, natural resource managers, educators, lawyers, and conservationists for the benefit of society.

SERC seeks to expand opportunities to serve as a highly recognized “off-the-Mall” learning site of the Smithsonian Institution as both a geographic destination that is easily accessible from the nation’s capital and a virtual destination that is globally accessible. By expanding SERC’s professional training facilities, realizing the potential of its environmental research and education, and restoring its historic gateway structure to engage visitors, SERC’s participation in the Smithsonian Campaign will provide science-based knowledge to meet critical environmental challenges.