6
Conclusions and Recommendations

CONCLUSIONS

Regional Marine Research Supports Effective Environmental Policies

Coastal and marine regions include some of the nation's most complex and valuable environments. The intersection of terrestrial and oceanic influences makes these areas particularly vulnerable to the impacts of human activities and changing climate. High nutrient runoff from agricultural lands, toxic contamination, drainage of wetlands, disposal of dredge material, global climate change, rising sea level, and severe coastal storms (e.g., hurricanes) all present environmental challenges for preserving natural resources, protecting human health and safety, and maintaining the esthetic and economic value of coastal areas; challenges that will become more pronounced over the next several decades. The formulation and implementation of sound environmental policies to meet these challenges requires programs that integrate research and monitoring to develop the ability to predict the consequences of human actions on these valuable but vulnerable coastal ecosystems.

Detecting, assessing, predicting, and mitigating the effects of natural perturbations and human-induced stresses on coastal ecosystems sometimes requires a broader, regional perspective to evaluate local changes in marine ecosystems that may be influenced by larger scale changes in climate, ocean circulation, fishing activities, and land-use practices 1. The need for regional marine research is rooted

1  

 One example is the impact of nutrient over-enrichment on coastal water quality, which is the subject of an ongoing NRC study. The tentative title of this report is Nutrient Over-Enrichment in Coastal Waters: Strategies for Managers and Scientists. The report is expected to be released in late-January 2000.



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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research 6 Conclusions and Recommendations CONCLUSIONS Regional Marine Research Supports Effective Environmental Policies Coastal and marine regions include some of the nation's most complex and valuable environments. The intersection of terrestrial and oceanic influences makes these areas particularly vulnerable to the impacts of human activities and changing climate. High nutrient runoff from agricultural lands, toxic contamination, drainage of wetlands, disposal of dredge material, global climate change, rising sea level, and severe coastal storms (e.g., hurricanes) all present environmental challenges for preserving natural resources, protecting human health and safety, and maintaining the esthetic and economic value of coastal areas; challenges that will become more pronounced over the next several decades. The formulation and implementation of sound environmental policies to meet these challenges requires programs that integrate research and monitoring to develop the ability to predict the consequences of human actions on these valuable but vulnerable coastal ecosystems. Detecting, assessing, predicting, and mitigating the effects of natural perturbations and human-induced stresses on coastal ecosystems sometimes requires a broader, regional perspective to evaluate local changes in marine ecosystems that may be influenced by larger scale changes in climate, ocean circulation, fishing activities, and land-use practices 1. The need for regional marine research is rooted 1    One example is the impact of nutrient over-enrichment on coastal water quality, which is the subject of an ongoing NRC study. The tentative title of this report is Nutrient Over-Enrichment in Coastal Waters: Strategies for Managers and Scientists. The report is expected to be released in late-January 2000.

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research in the need to address issues based on the geographic scale of the system, rather than on political boundaries. Scientifically-based management of the environment and living resources depends on the ability to understand the system as a whole; often this may be accomplished through regional-scale research and monitoring. Regional approaches also promote coordination of the efforts of local, state, and federal programs; enable the timely analysis of data; and supply the information needs of resource managers and policymakers. Regional programs can provide resource managers and policymakers with better information to respond to stresses in coastal aquatic ecosystems, for example, tracing the fates of nutrients and chemical contaminants, identifying the causes of fish kills or mass mortalities of birds and marine mammals, or predicting the impacts of habitat loss, alterations of freshwater flows, or dredging (see also Table 1-1). Despite these advantages, there is a dearth of regional programs with approaches to research and monitoring that are integrated and sustained sufficiently to develop an understanding of processes and changes that occur on the time-scale of decades. The primary barriers to the development of such programs have been fragmentation of effort and poor coordination among and within government agencies, lack of public awareness and support, and the unpredictable nature of funding. These factors have decreased the cost effectiveness of existing programs and reduced their ability to serve a broad spectrum of user needs in a timely fashion. By formulating and implementing plans for regional marine research and monitoring that are nationally coordinated and locally relevant, a wider array of users will be served more effectively. Processes for Defining Regional Research Needs Responsibility for identifying research needs, setting priorities, and defining goals typically falls to some combination of scientists, educators, legislators, representatives of industries, conservation groups, and the state and federal agencies involved in environmental research and management. Chapter 3 of this report describes three approaches to developing regional research plans that emphasize the involvement of one or more of these groups: Community Plans Community-based planning is the most inclusive approach, relying on bottom-up2 stakeholder involvement in all stages of the planning process from defining information needs, to setting goals and priorities, to assessing the effective- 2    In this report, "bottom up" refers to the broad spectrum of users in the target region and "top-down" refers to the program offices in the relevant federal agencies.

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research ness of the program. Benefits of this approach include improved communication and mutual education among the groups of stakeholders, development of community support, and better coordination among local, state, and federal agencies. However, such a process tends to be more time consuming, and plans for research and monitoring may lack focus because of the disparate views of the community. Elements of this style of planning have been used in the Regional Marine Research Program (RMRP) run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Sea Grant Program, and in the National Estuary Program, run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scientists' Plans Planning within the scientific community is a less inclusive, bottom-up approach that primarily involves funding agencies and scientists. The agencies specify the topics of interest, provide guidelines, and manage the competition for funds, while the scientists define the goals and develop the research plans. This process excels in developing cutting-edge research programs through a competitive process dependent primarily on peer review, but represents the interests of scientists and agencies and is not necessarily responsive to the priorities of other stakeholders. Most of these programs are organized through the National Science Foundation (NSF); a few are discussed in this report, including Land Margin Ecosystems Research (LMER), Coastal Ocean Processes (CoOP), and Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics (GLOBEC). Agency Plans Agency planning, a top-down approach, emphasizes the responsibilities of program managers for defining research topics, setting priorities, and establishing goals for research programs. Frequently, these programs involve researchers from within the agencies as well as academic researchers. The process may involve substantial input from scientists, resource managers, or elected officials, and frequently includes some level of peer review. Although this approach allows mission agencies such as NOAA and EPA to maintain focus on their responsibilities as defined by Congress, it is also more susceptible to political manipulation in the budget process. Such manipulation can derail the efforts of federal agencies to coordinate more efficient and less redundant regional research programs. In this report, the Coastal Ocean Program (COP) of NOAA and the Louisiana-Texas Shelf Physical Oceanography (LaTex) program of the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) serve as examples of Agency Plans. The NOAA Sea Grant program is a hybrid of agency and community-based planning with research objectives set at the national level and research needs determined at the state level. Each of these approaches has components that should be incorporated into the design and implementation of new regional marine research programs. The

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research goal is to develop a balanced process that incorporates elements from both top-down and bottom-up approaches. Community-based planning helps develop programs that effectively address issues that are locally relevant, and helps promote continued public and political support for sustained funding. Agency planning is needed to maintain the linkage between research and the application of new knowledge to address societal needs and to enable national coordination for timely data analysis and information exchange. Science-based planning is required to incorporate the most recent scientific knowledge, methods, and technology. In addition to these three types of planning activities, legislative mandates are recognized as another process that defines regional marine research needs. There are at least two categories of legislatively-mandated research. The first involves legislation that explicitly establishes a research program with defined goals and guidelines for funding. The RMRP is an example of a program established by law. In the second category, research is not the target of the law, but is implicit because research is required to achieve the legislative mandate. Examples include the Sustainable Fisheries Act and the Endangered Species Act. These examples also illustrate the problem of "unintended consequences," and the importance of understanding costs and benefits in terms of the effects of legislation on both the research agenda and the ability to control environmental impacts and manage living resources. Regional marine research that embraces an ecosystem-based strategy should provide the knowledge required to support the decisionmaking processes required by environmental legislation. RECOMMENDATIONS Enabling Regional Marine Research The review of regional marine research programs and the barriers to their implementation revealed essential elements and actions that will be required for the successful development of a regional approach to marine research and monitoring in coastal ecosystems. A program for regional marine research should incorporate the following elements: Involve all stakeholders in the planning and implementation of regional programs through workshops, advisory councils, and boards; Build a program that is more than the sum of its parts through more effective use of existing resources and research projects, and facilitate multiple uses of data to serve the needs of a variety of users; Facilitate ongoing interactions among monitoring programs (to reveal spatial and temporal patterns of change), hypothesis-driven research (to determine underlying causes of change), and modeling (to predict change and the consequences of change);

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research Provide the flexibility to define the boundaries of the program to match the geography of the issue to be addressed; Develop an integrated data management system that uses common protocols and formats, provides quality assurance, enables timely dissemination and analysis of data, allows rapid access to integrated data from disparate sources, and provides long-term data archiving; Develop procedures to react to unanticipated events with a coordinated and rapid response; Establish a communications network that effectively links political, social, economic, and environmental interests in the design, implementation, and evolution of the program for more effective science education, public outreach, economic development, and management of ecosystems and living resources; Facilitate adaptive management strategies by assessing the efficacy of environmental policies and testing alternative approaches. Ensure sustained public and political support for stable funding through outreach activities that increase awareness of current research activities, describe changes in the health of coastal ecosystems, and explain how the results of research and monitoring are used to support environmental decisionmaking. This last element, building public and political support, is essential to the success of regional research programs. The proponents of regional marine research must clearly articulate the ecological, economic, and social benefits of a regional approach to overcome the general lack of awareness of the potential benefits of research among decisionmakers and the public. In many cases, environmental research does not require a regional approach. Smaller, less comprehensive projects that produce quick results and have time scales consistent with annual budget processes are easier to fund, provide less financial exposure, and require less effort to promote and organize. In short, proponents of regional marine research need to clearly and concisely explain why an issue cannot be addressed from a local perspective, but requires a regional approach, to justify spending substantial and continuing funds for these programs. Governance Structures to Support Regional Marine Research Integration of the diversity of interests, missions, and priorities of all the stakeholders (local, state, and federal governments, the scientific community, industry, conservation groups, and others) presents formidable challenges. Also, regional marine research must serve many needs, including those of science education, basic research, and the application of scientific information for the purposes of society. At present, there is no governance structure that contains all of the elements of a regional program as recommended above. Regional programs require a governance structure that enables both bottom-up programmatic

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research development through regional organizations of stakeholders and top-down coordination by federal agencies and national organizations. Bottom-up regional organizations of stakeholders provide integration of efforts at the local, state, and regional level and should be involved in the establishment of research priorities, research planning and implementation, program evaluation, and product development. Through the participation of stakeholders, this approach also may contribute to efforts to develop support for regional programs, establish programs for public education on environmental issues, and provide avenues of communication for distribution of research products. Top-down coordination of federal and state agencies is necessary to develop national environmental policies, to promote cross-fertilization of information and technology development, and to enable efficiencies in the design and implementation of regional programs. National leadership will be needed to manage the data resources developed through regional programs, to ensure long-term archiving of data, and to establish national standards for measurements, metadata, and dissemination. Robert Wall, former Chairman of the Gulf of Maine Regional Marine Research Board (GOM-RMRP), in a letter to this committee, described some of the problems faced by the RMRP that will need to be overcome in future programs for regional marine research: There were also some limitations in the RMRP that should be recognized and dealt with in developing any successor program. One was the lack of a long-term, continuing state and national commitment. Both the scientific and resource management arguments for such a commitment are persuasive now and becoming more so as time passes. A second and more fundamental limitation derived from the RMRP's origins as a congressional initiative. Then Senator Mitchell held several hearings on the need for regional marine research and purposefully made the RMRP a national initiative. However, it suffered from the lack of a supportive home agency, turf battles within the Senate and NOAA, and the zero-sum budgeting mentality prevailing (understandably) at that time. I also believe its unusual and multi-faceted partnership character made it unattractive for any entity to seriously push for it. The lack of a stable funding mechanism prevented implementation of the RMRP nationally, and limited the accomplishments of the GOM-RMRP by funding this program for only 5 of the 10 years planned. The success of a regional approach will depend on programs that are comprehensive in design and enjoy continuity of support beyond the annual funding cycles of state and federal governments. All decisions should be open to public scrutiny, and funding should be allocated based on peer review by experts who do not stand to benefit directly from the allocation of funds. Funding must be performance-based, sustained, and predictable to reap the optimal benefits from a regional effort. At the same time,

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research the program must enable individual agencies and institutions to fulfill their respective missions. One, or some combination, of the following funding mechanisms could be adapted to support regional programs: Funding provided by a single "lead agency" with a commitment from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress that funds are for an interagency, nationally-coordinated network of regional programs. A single agency would be responsible for leadership, budget planning, and the allocation of funds. Implementation would involve an interagency committee, perhaps together with a federal advisory committee to include non-federal user groups. NOAA's RMRP provides a possible model for such an approach. Multiagency funding committed via an interagency Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and coordinated by an interagency committee with agency-specific funding of projects. Funding decisions made by an interagency program office with funds provided by participating agencies. Policies and procedures for the operation of the office and allocations of funds would be established by a steering committee. The office would be operated under the auspices of a host agency. The last two of these funding options require coordination through an interagency program. The National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) is one example of an interagency group that could serve as a vehicle for implementing a coordinated, comprehensive program of regional marine research and monitoring. The National Oceanographic Partnership Act (P.L. 104-201) established NOPP to "advance economic development, assure national security, protect the quality of life, and strengthen science and education through improved knowledge of the oceans." To achieve these goals, NOPP was established as a partnership of government agencies (U.S. Navy, NSF, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOAA, EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, MMS, U.S. Coast Guard, OMB, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy), that is guided by the Ocean Research Advisory Panel of non-government experts. The role of NOPP is to integrate national efforts and coordinate national investments in ocean research and education. If NOPP were to implement regional marine research, a formal interagency MOA would need to be signed by participating agencies to define roles and responsibilities and to ensure balanced and sustained funding. Additionally, regional programs will require funding partnerships with coastal states in the target regions. While NOPP is a promising mechanism for interagency coordination of regional marine research initiatives, it is still a new program and hence lacks a record of successful agency cooperation. Also, it is uncertain that NOPP, with its very broad mandate, will have sufficient resources to address the specific organizational needs of regional marine research programs. These programs will re-

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research quire a regional governance structure similar to the management framework established for the Chesapeake Bay Program or the GOM-RMRP. In all three of the funding models described, leadership at the national level will be required to ensure the quality of the research and coordination of regional and national programs. NOAA has run a variety of regional programs and has extensive experience with, and responsibility for, addressing coastal issues. However, the diffusion of effort throughout several NOAA offices creates challenges both for establishing stable funding for regional initiatives and for developing cooperative programs with other federal and state agencies as envisioned in this report. Previous NOAA programs have not fulfilled the goals for regional research as envisioned by this committee. Research supported by the National Sea Grant College Program tends to be limited in geographic scope, and Sea Grant has institutional barriers that hinder or preclude research efforts that span state or international borders. Although the RMRP planning process was regional in scope, in most cases it was also constrained by political boundaries. Valuable information and perspectives can be found in the RMRP plans, hence, it is disappointing that there was so little follow-through on the extensive RMRP planning efforts, and research effort in the case of the GOM-RMRP. It is important that regional marine research programs be structured, planned, and implemented for the long-term. The COP has planned and implemented several regional-scale, interdisciplinary research programs, such as Nutrient Enhanced Coastal Ocean Productivity (NECOP), South Atlantic Bight Recruitment Experiment, and Southeast Bering Sea Carrying Capacity. All of these programs have produced valuable research findings. However, these programs are limited in time (usually to five years), and sometimes lack context due to insufficient emphasis on sustained observations. Research planning has been less inclusive of stakeholders for the COP than for the RMRP or the National Estuary Program sites. There have been problems in integrating research planning, implementation, and resources with those of other agencies working within the target regions. Also, there is no mechanism to ensure that research efforts are distributed among the different regions of the country, and COP has not implemented a balanced national program. A national program for regional research should integrate the efforts of the various agencies at local, state, and federal levels through cooperative planning and should make a programmatic commitment to distribute funds to meet the research needs of each coastal region. Recommendations for NOAA Regional marine research presents special challenges in its planning and implementation, but it is essential for resolving urgent and serious problems of the coastal ocean. Many federal and state agencies, universities, and private

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research groups contribute to coastal research, but none have NOAA's broad mandate for marine environmental research. Therefore, the committee concludes that it is NOAA's responsibility to provide leadership in developing regional marine research programs. Because neither NOAA nor any other group has the resources to do the entire task, part of NOAA's leadership responsibility is to promote interagency cooperation and coordination at the federal level and to muster the assets of the many interested organizations at local and state levels to achieve the most effective regional research programs. No one program within NOAA is the obvious choice to spearhead this effort. NOAA has devoted substantial resources to coastal ocean research and management, and has achieved some success in addressing coastal ocean problems from a regional perspective, such as the GOM-RMRP and NECOP initiatives described in this report. However, it is unlikely that NOAA can implement the recommendations in this report unless senior NOAA management designates responsibility for regional marine research to a single office within NOAA. Although several NOAA programs have important resources to contribute, a single office should be given the responsibility, as well as sufficient authority, to provide direction, overall coordination, and oversight to create regional initiatives that best serve local, state, and national interests. In summary, the governance of a regional marine research program depends on: (1) coordination and collaboration among agencies at state and federal levels to provide the capacity to plan and support regional research; (2) integration of effort at the federal level to ensure national credibility and timely exchange of information and technology among regions; (3) planning that involves stakeholders at the local, state, and regional level to develop programs that address regional needs; and (4) mechanisms to enable federal and multi-state collaboration in the allocation of funds for regional research.