Region, n. A part of the earth's surface (land or sea) of considerable and usually indefinite extent.
—Random House Dictionary of the English Language (unabridged)
. . . A region is the next larger-scale system with influence on our own local field of study.
—Scott W. Nixon, 1996
The combined effects of global climate change and human alterations of the environment are expected to be especially pronounced in the coastal zone where human population density is increasing most rapidly. Detecting, assessing, predicting, and mitigating these effects require interdisciplinary and multidimensional approaches to environmental research and management. This type of research and management is also needed for understanding and dealing with natural processes that affect coastal communities, such as storm surges; beach migration; and fluctuations in the salinity and oxygenation of estuarine waters. However, programs that have been established to enable environmental research and apply new scientific knowledge are too often uncoordinated at all levels of government, sometimes even within agencies (Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, 1992). Consequently, the potential for unnecessary duplication exists; programs are too limited in scope; gaps and a lack of synthesis between studies occur; and funding levels are insufficient to achieve the goals of the respective programs (NRC, 1990a; Malone and Nemazie, 1996). The mismatch
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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research 1— Introduction Region, n. A part of the earth's surface (land or sea) of considerable and usually indefinite extent. —Random House Dictionary of the English Language (unabridged) . . . A region is the next larger-scale system with influence on our own local field of study. —Scott W. Nixon, 1996 The combined effects of global climate change and human alterations of the environment are expected to be especially pronounced in the coastal zone where human population density is increasing most rapidly. Detecting, assessing, predicting, and mitigating these effects require interdisciplinary and multidimensional approaches to environmental research and management. This type of research and management is also needed for understanding and dealing with natural processes that affect coastal communities, such as storm surges; beach migration; and fluctuations in the salinity and oxygenation of estuarine waters. However, programs that have been established to enable environmental research and apply new scientific knowledge are too often uncoordinated at all levels of government, sometimes even within agencies (Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, 1992). Consequently, the potential for unnecessary duplication exists; programs are too limited in scope; gaps and a lack of synthesis between studies occur; and funding levels are insufficient to achieve the goals of the respective programs (NRC, 1990a; Malone and Nemazie, 1996). The mismatch
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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research between the problems in coastal ecosystems and the government bureaucracies concerned with environmental research and stewardship of natural resources is exacerbated by the overlapping missions of local, state, and federal agencies and the complexity of this transition region where the land meets the sea (Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, 1992). These realities confound the already difficult tasks of defining priorities for environmental research and stewardship, and developing public and political support for these priorities. Regionally-organized programs of research and management, which are not compromised by artificial political or disciplinary boundaries, show promise in helping to address this problem. Recently, there have been a number of attempts to establish such programs as a means of meeting societal needs more effectively. The National Sea Grant and the Coastal Ocean Program (COP) offices in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) asked the Ocean Studies Board (OSB) of the National Research Council (NRC) to assemble a committee to review regional marine research programs in general, and two programs in particular: (1) the Gulf of Maine Regional Marine Research Program (GOMRMRP), established in 1990 and terminated in 1997, and (2) the Nutrient Enhanced Coastal Ocean Productivity (NECOP) program in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, established in 1989 and terminated in 1996. The committee was charged to assess the need for regional marine research, review processes by which regional marine research needs can be defined, and discuss existing programs for regional marine research in the United States. The GOM-RMRP and other similar programs at NOAA (specifically NECOP), EPA, and NSF were identified as case studies for the examination of these issues. The committee was also asked to identify short- and long-term approaches that might be taken by NOAA (alone or in cooperation with other agencies) to conduct regional marine research. In addition to the two case studies, GOM-RMRP and NECOP, many other marine research programs with a regional scope have been launched in recent years. This study was initiated to focus on these two NOAA programs, but other regional programs that have addressed similar issues relating to water quality and ecosystem health are briefly examined to provide a broader context. The committee's review includes less detailed examinations of: (1) National Estuary Program (NEP), (2) the Coastal Ocean Processes program (CoOP), (3) the National Sea Grant Program, (4) the Pacific Northwest Coastal Ecosystems Regional Study (PNCERS), (5) the Land-Margin Ecosystem Research (LMER) Program, (6) Long-Term Management Strategy (LTMS) for San Francisco Bay, and (7) the Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) program. The committee, a multidisciplinary mix of environmental scientists and managers, with expertise in oceanography, biology, engineering, and resource and coastal zone management (Appendix A) prepared this report over a period of six months. During this time, the committee made two site visits to meet with researchers and managers involved in regional programs. The first meeting was
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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research held in New Orleans to examine NECOP and other Gulf of Mexico programs, and the second was held in Boston to consider the GOM-RMRP and related activities (Appendix B). The report is organized to address the issues outlined in the charge to the committee described above. This introductory chapter concludes with a description of the coastal environment and related issues of environmental stewardship that are intended to provide a perspective for a regional approach to coastal marine research. Chapter 2 explores the rationale for regional marine research programs by defining the environmental problems and identifying the value of a regional approach to these problems. Chapter 3 describes the various processes used to define regional needs and to set priorities for regional-scale research programs. Chapter 4 reviews existing and past regional marine research, including detailed case studies of NECOP and the GOM-RMRP. Barriers and constraints on regional research programs are presented in Chapter 5. Finally, Chapter 6 contains the committee's conclusions and recommendations for approaches that may be taken to address regional marine research needs. THE NATURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN COASTAL ECOSYSTEMS The coastal marine environment is a mosaic of complex interacting ecosystems that include rocky intertidal shores, tidal wetlands, estuaries, bays and sounds, and the open waters of the continental shelf. In addition to their heterogeneity, coastal ecosystems differ from terrestrial and oceanic systems in at least four important respects (Chelton et al., 1982; Steele, 1985; Powell, 1989; NRC, 1994b; Cloern, 1996): They are typically constrained by irregular coastlines and a shallow, highly variable bathymetry. Proximity to land and the interaction between benthic and pelagic communities promotes cycling of nutrients and enhances the capacity of coastal ecosystems to support living resources. They are subject to convergent inputs of materials and energy from terrestrial, atmospheric, oceanic, and anthropogenic sources that vary over a broad range of time-space scales. In addition to the combined inputs of natural processes (e.g., solar radiation, tides, winds, atmospheric deposition, freshwater flows from land, and ocean currents), a wide range of human activities also impact the coastal ecosystem. Populations of organisms and processes in coastal ecosystems are more variable on smaller space- and shorter-time scales than is typical of either the open ocean or terrestrial ecosystems. Coastal areas support a disproportionate fraction of the human population. It is projected that by the year 2025, 75% of the world's population will live within 120 miles of the coast (Hinrichsen, 1998). This population density reflects
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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research TABLE 1-1 Prominent Natural Perturbations and Anthropogenic Stresses and Associated Indicators of Change in Coastal Aquatic Ecosystems Perturbation or Stress • Storms and other extreme weather: variations in wind and precipitation, freshwater runoff and groundwater discharge, waves and storm surge. • Climate change: long-term trends in temperature, sea level, and regional weather patterns. • Physical restructuring of the environment: e.g., land-use, alteration of freshwater flow patterns, dredging, port construction. • Nutrient mobilization and nutrient enrichment of coastal waters. • Chemical contamination of soil, air, and water. • Exploitation of living resources. • Introductions of non-indigenous (exotic) species. Indicators of Change • Accumulations of algal biomass and harmful algal blooms. • Oxygen depletion. • Fish kills, mass mortalities of birds and mammals. • Temperature increase and sea level rise. • Saltwater intrusion into rivers and groundwater. • Flooding and coastal erosion. • Increased susceptibility to natural hazards, loss of property and human life, and higher insurance rates. • Habitat loss: e.g., losses of wetlands, sea grass beds, coral reefs. • Diseases and accumulations of chemical contaminants in marine organisms. • Growth of non-indigenous species. • Loss of biodiversity. • Decline and loss of living resources. • Socioeconomic instability and public health hazards. the rich natural resources, transportation hubs, jobs, and desirable living conditions found in these areas. Although many of the changes that are occurring in coastal ecosystems (Table 1-1) appear to be directly or indirectly related to human activities, the rates and magnitudes of such changes reflect the combined effects of natural perturbations and anthropogenic stresses (NRC, 1994b). In its review of the status and future of oceanography, the NRC concluded that two high priorities for the ocean sciences are studying the roles of the ocean in climate change and the dynamics of coastal ecosystems (NRC, 1992). More recently, the NRC identified improving the health and productivity of coastal oceans, sustaining ocean ecosystems for future generations, and predicting climate variations over a human lifetime as the three broad areas of research that "present great opportunities for advances in the ocean sciences and will lead to concrete improvements for human life on this planet" (NRC, 1998). In summary, both of these reports emphasize that:
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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research The challenges of sustaining living marine resources, protecting and restoring ecosystem health, mitigating natural disasters, and safeguarding public health require substantial advances in our basic understanding of how such perturbations are expressed within and propagated among coastal ecosystems. Substantial advances cannot be achieved in the absence of a regional perspective. The effects of natural perturbations and anthropogenic activities occurring in local ecosystems must be considered in the context of larger-scale changes in ocean circulation, climate, and land-use practices to develop a predictive understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental variability and change. The perturbations, stresses, and indicators of change listed in Table 1-1 are occurring on local to regional scales in coastal waters worldwide. They are globally ubiquitous, indicating profound changes in the capacity of coastal ecosystems to support living resources. They reduce the value of the coastal zone to the national economy by reducing fishery yields, increasing living expenses, and escalating susceptibility to natural hazards. In the absence of scientific understanding of coastal ecosystems and how they are affected by both anthropogenic and natural forcings, it will become more difficult to solve or avoid environmental problems. Without the ability to distinguish natural variation from human impacts, the formulation and implementation of environmental policies becomes increasingly controversial. Hence, the nation's highest research priorities must include documentation and prediction of the effects of natural processes and human activities on coastal ecosystems. RESOURCE AND ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT IN THE COASTAL ZONE As human populations and activities increase in the coastal zone, the combined effects of global climate change and human alterations of the environment are expected to be especially pronounced in coastal areas, in part as a consequence of the convergent effects of inputs from land, sea, air, and people discussed above. It is here that the problems of sustaining living resources, protecting and restoring ecosystem health, mitigating natural disasters, and protecting public health will become most pronounced over the next several decades. In the 1970s, the enactment of federal environmental laws (e.g., Clean Water Act and its amendments; the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act; Fishery Conservation and Management Act; Coastal Zone Management Act; the Endangered Species Act; and the Marine Mammal Protection Act) launched a more national approach to the protection and restoration of living marine resources and habitats. These legislative mandates typically employed a command-and-control approach, with oversight and enforcement by federal agencies and
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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research implementation by state agencies. Reduction in point-source pollution, creation of marine resource inventories, recognition of estuaries of national significance, and development of coastal management plans represent some of the milestones of these programs. Despite the efforts and progress by federal, state, and local government agencies, the degradation of coastal waters and resources continues. There are indications that the incidences of harmful algal blooms, zones of hypoxia, contaminated shellfish, and population declines of fish species may be increasing (Table 1-1), with significant consequences to public health, regional economies, and the capacity of coastal ecosystems to support living resources and many human activities. Polluted runoff, municipal and industrial pollution, contaminated sediments, and habitat fragmentation and degradation continue to pose management challenges. Today, resource managers struggle to identify and acquire the scientific information needed to improve the decisionmaking process in order to protect and restore affected marine ecosystems. Currently, coastal and ocean programs at all levels of government vary in their capacity to acquire, synthesize, use, disseminate, and maintain technical and scientific information. Resource management programs are now shifting from a command-and-control approach to a community-based decisionmaking model that requires greater public understanding of ecosystems and their processes (Kazancigil, 1998). In 1998, the federal government launched the Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP; DOA et al., 1999) intended to comprehensively protect and restore valuable water resources and aquatic habitats into the 21st century. The CWAP is based on the watershed approach and is intended to respond to specific resource management problems within individual watersheds (DOA et al., 1999). For managers to make decisions based on this approach, a greater understanding of coastal ecosystems will be required. An integrated, regionally relevant marine research program may be one vehicle for providing the necessary framework of creditable scientific and technical support for management. The regional approach not only provides a more effective means to observe, analyze, and predict environmental change in local ecosystems, but also provides an opportunity for community involvement, which is needed to build the support and capacity for a sustained, successful program.