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Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
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3

Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration

BOX 3-1 Important Points Made by the Speakers

• While difficult to quantify, valuation of coastal ecosystem services could aid decision making by policymakers and local communities.

• A comprehensive inventory of habitats could be linked with the ecosystem services each provides to yield a consistent valuation of those habitats and services.

• Efforts to monitor, measure, or predict ecosystem services must consider social and economic parameters.

• Industry supports real-time ocean observing over extended periods of time that included not only physical oceanography but biological, chemical, and ecological monitoring programs incorporated into fixed and autonomous ocean observing platforms.

• A conceptual model that encompasses the entire suite of restoration activities could reveal missing data and priority areas that need to be addressed.

• Industry has many reasons to support long-term environmental monitoring and many ways in which it can help do so.

There were two areas of focus for the workshop, and the first full day of discussion at the workshop was dedicated to topics around the approaches, information, and support that environmental monitoring might provide with the rapidly expanding investments in environmental restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. The funds behind these investments stem from the legal settlements and legislation associated with the DWH oil spill and already exceed $3 billion, and this figure is expected to grow with future settlements.

There are a suite of methodological tools available to provide decision support for restoration planners and resource managers alike. They include ecosystem service valuation, ecosystem models, and trade-off analyses (Ocean Research Advisory Panel, 2013). Coastal populations in the Gulf of Mexico and their economic activities depend on many of the services provided by coastal and marine ecosystems, such as storm surge mitigation, enhanced water quality and fisheries production (Barbier, 2011). So as restoration planners are considering different restoration projects across the region, a focus on restoration efforts that integrate an ecosystem service approach (identifying services and prioritizing them based on their use and tradeoffs for the region’s communities) could prove useful as well as responsive to the needs and expectations of the region’s stakeholders.

VALUING ECOSYSTEM SERVICES FOR COASTAL PROTECTION AND RESTORATION

Considerable progress has been made in quantifying and valuing some of the key ecosystem goods and services provided by coastal habitats, but fundamental challenges remain, said Edward Barbier, John S. Bugas Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Wyoming. As Worm et al. (2006) have pointed out, the loss of coastal and estuarine ecosystems has affected three critical ecosystem services studied in Europe, North America, and Australia since 1950. The number of viable fisheries has declined by 33 percent over the long term. The provision of nursery habitats such as oyster reefs, seagrass beds, and wetlands has declined by 69 percent. And filtering and detoxification services provided by suspension feeders, submerged vegetation, and wetlands have

Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×

declined by 63 percent. In addition, the loss of coastal wetlands and their vegetation has affected these systems’ ability to protect against shore erosion, coastal flooding and storm events; declining water quality may increase harmful algal blooms, fish kills, shellfish and beach closures, and oxygen depletion; and loss of biodiversity has been linked to biological invasion and vice versa. These are the types of services that need to be assessed when considering the tradeoffs associated with coastal development, Barbier said.

However, it remains difficult to quantify and value the benefits of such services. As the NRC Committee on Assessing and Valuing the Services of Aquatic and Related Terrestrial Ecosystems has noted, “the fundamental challenge of valuing ecosystem services lies in providing an explicit description and adequate assessment of the links between the structure and functions of natural systems, the benefits (i.e., goods and services) derived by humanity, and their subsequent values” (NRC, 2005). Except for some raw materials and food and fish harvests, very few ecosystem goods and services are marketed, which means they have to be valued explicitly through non-market valuation methods. In particular, the greatest challenge is in valuing the ecosystem services provided by regulatory and habitat functions. These ecosystem functions benefit human beings largely without any additional input from people. Examples include coastal storm protection, breeding and nursery habitat, nutrient cycling, erosion control, water purification, and carbon sequestration.

Barbier presented two case studies of how these kinds of services can be valued. The first involves storm protection by marshes in southeast Louisiana. The 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan proposes to build 545 to 859 square miles of new land, much of it restored marsh, over the next 50 years to provide storm protection and other ecosystem benefits. Field studies indicate that coastal marsh vegetation significantly impacts wave attenuation, as measured by reductions in wave height per unit distance across a wetland. By combining hydrodynamic analysis of simulated hurricane storm surges and economic valuation of expected property damages, Barbier et al. (2013) showed that the presence of coastal marshes and their vegetation has a demonstrable effect on reducing storm surge levels and generates significant value in terms of protecting property in southeast Louisiana. A 0.1 increase in wetland continuity per 6-km segment reduces property damages for the average affected area in southeast Louisiana by $600,000 to $800,000, and a 0.001 increase in vegetation roughness decreases damages by $140,000 to $260,000. This is the equivalent of saving three to five and one to two properties per storm for the average affected area, respectively. Though other studies have produced different results, depending largely on the questions being asked and the assumptions that are made, these results suggest that wetland restoration could reduce the future vulnerability of the coast to periodic hurricane storm surges and decrease the risk of substantial flood damages to residential property, Barbier said. Better information is needed from hurricane and other tropical storm surge models to improve estimates of the distribution of expected coastal flood damages, he added, along with replication of these analyses for other locations and coastal habitats.

Barbier’s second case study involved an approach used for oils spills and wetland compensation in lieu of restoration. Since the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, parties releasing oil into the environment are liable for the cost of cleaning up those releases and monetary compensation for damages to natural resources caused by the releases. The U.S National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for assessing the effects of any offshore spill through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). This NRDA relies less on valuation than on habitat equivalency analysis (HEA), especially for damaged coastal wetlands. The underlying concept behind HEA is to compensate the public for losses of habitat resources through habitat replacement projects that provide additional resources of the same type. Three steps are involved in doing this analysis. The interim losses in natural resource services arising from damages to a coastal and marine resource are quantified. The scale of compensatory restoration required to offset these service losses is estimated and compensation is sought from the responsible party for the present-value monetary costs of the compensatory restoration project. By comparing services to services, valuation is not necessary.

This approach has both pros and cons, Barbier noted. Restoration is emphasized from the beginning of the NRDA, and protracted and costly litigation is often avoided. It also ensures that enough money is collected to implement complementary restoration. However, this approach assumes a preference for compensation with the same services that were damaged; it assumes a fixed proportion of habitat services to habitat value; and it assumes a constant real value of services over time. In addition, the baseline may vary, and compensation may have effects on the overall aggregate supply of and demand for some services.

Coastal wetland restoration and compensatory mitigation will feature prominently in Louisiana and other coastal states, Barbier said in conclusion. Developing methods of assessing natural resource damages, such as the effects of oil spills on coastal wetlands, while reducing costly litigation and expediting funding for restoration, is an important objective. But there also needs to be much more consideration of the long-

Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×

term ecological establishment of wetland structure and functions and of the economic benefits derived from the resulting goods and services, he said. A case-by-case approach is not helpful in the event of long-term and large-scale damages.

Barbier also noted that progress in valuing key goods and services, provided by coastal ecosystems, requires interdisciplinary collaboration to link changes in ecosystem structure and function to the production of key benefits to humans. Valuation can identify tradeoffs, including the costs and benefits of various coastal management options, and contribute to assessing management effectiveness. If employed properly, valuing coastal ecosystem goods and services will aid decision making by policymakers and local communities with respect to the use and conservation of various coastal systems. However, more studies are needed that value a wider range of coastal ecosystem services in more locations and over different periods of time

RESTORING OYSTER REEFS: PERFORMANCE, BENEFITS AND TRADEOFFS

As a specific example of the link between monitoring and ecosystem services, Christine Shepard, director of science for The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Program, observed that the Conservancy has been focusing on oyster projects to create shorelines, break waters, or reefs for shoreline restoration. As a result, monitoring has been a major component for the Conservancy in considering its restoration projects along the Gulf Coast. In particular, as these projects increase in size, the Conservancy needs to know how their benefits scale with project size.

The Conservancy has developed a set of questions to inform its monitoring activities. The first question involves the relationship between reef design type and performance. Many projects have been under way for a long time and have not been monitored. “Before we invest huge sums of money in these massive projects, we feel it’s important to look back at the historical performance of these projects,” said Shepard. The ecosystem services provided by a project can change over time, which requires monitoring to track the changing value. “Consistent monitoring is essential and something that I hope people will invest in the Gulf,” she said.

The second question is whether constructed reefs will be able to keep up with sea level rise. In addition, in places where they are able to keep up, what factors contribute to that success? “We want to make sure that we can learn from restoration projects that have already occurred so we can pick highly suitable locations,” she said.

A third question involves the tradeoffs that occur when oyster reef projects are designed to maximize shoreline benefits. A community or other stakeholder group may be interested in supporting a project because of the coastal protection it provides, but the incorporation of additional ecosystem services into a project’s goals inevitably involves tradeoffs.

A final question involves monitoring the performance of projects during disturbances such as storms or oil spills. Field data can quantify the benefits of a project, which can support decision making. “Communities want to see field-verified information,” said Shepard, yet “we struggle to find any of that in the literature to show them.” The data that are available tend to focus on erosion, but storm protection is the first thing people think about in terms of coastal protection. As a result, Shepard concluded, “there is an opportunity in the Gulf to set up monitoring stations related to storms, because we know we are going to get them.”

During the discussion period, Shepard noted that many site-level questions remain unanswered and that these questions need to be answered as projects grow bigger and interact among themselves. She also addressed a broader concern, which is whether interventions need to be proven effective before they are used in a restoration project. Monitoring activities need to be adaptively managed, with lessons learned along the way informing future decision making, she said, even as restoration activities rest on a base of existing information about their expected effects.

MANAGING AN ECOSYSTEM SERVICE APPROACH

“Any efforts to monitor, access, and predict the status or the health of ecosystems services must consider environmental and social economic parameters, because by definition, ecosystem services are the benefits that humans obtained from ecosystems,” said Sandra Werner, senior research scientist and environmental and regulatory advisor for ExxonMobil. This integrated approach requires a continuous dialogue between industry and non-industry stakeholders to gauge the priorities of stakeholders.

ExxonMobil, in collaboration with the Harte Research Institute, recently held a series of stakeholder workshops to engage in this dialogue, which included participants from industry, government, and academia. These workshops emphasized the importance of a holistic approach rather than focusing on the ecosystem services that matter to a particular constituent. For example, food, raw materials, and recreation consistently ranked among the top three ecosystem services for the offshore environment, and ecosystem services typically involved both nearshore areas and the deep Gulf.

Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×

With regard to the Gulf Research Program, Werner emphasized the importance of monitoring multiple stressors rather than just one. For example, many other factors affect ecosystem services in the Gulf besides the oil and gas industry, including fishing, transportation services, climate change, and ocean acidification. Considering all of the factors involved in the Gulf requires the calibration, verification, and refinement of an integrated modeling framework, Werner said. Such a framework would consist of coupled models, such as a hydrodynamic model coupled with a fish model, and it may need to consider subregions of the Gulf before being expanded to encompass the entire area. “Data to help calibrate, verify, and, over time, refine these models would be a good opportunity for the Gulf Research Program to pursue in the long term,” she said. Box 3-1 highlights the potential role that could be played by modeling in a comprehensive environmental monitoring program.

Werner also discussed the key role played by biological communities in the deep Gulf, about which little is known at this time. (The deep Gulf is discussed in more detail in the next chapter.) For example, what is the spatial distribution of naturally occurring hydrocarbon seeps in the deep Gulf? What are the exchange mechanisms between deep seeps and the surface? How much of the released hydrocarbons reach the upper water column? Are they important contributors to upper water ecosystem services? Passive samplers could help answer these and other questions, especially as technologies continue to develop.

In the discussion session, Werner expressed some skepticism that all ecosystem services could be incorporated in a single model. Instead, many project-level questions need to be answered that can inform the larger framework, she said. “Any stakeholder could come up with a very long list of parameters that they would like to see monitored. The challenge for the Gulf region is to filter this [list] down to realistically achievable programs, set study priorities, and then adjust these priorities as data come in over time.” In Werner’s opinion, one way to do so would be to hold periodic workshops that bring together all the involved stakeholders to examine specific questions or priority areas. Such workshops could provide a better sense of where funds need to be invested to meet stakeholder and scientific needs.

BOX 3-1 The Role of Modeling

A model of an ecological system is an abstract, usually mathematical, representation of said system. Data collected from the ecosystem representing specific attributes of the system, ranging in scale from an individual population, to an ecological community or habitat, or even an entire biome can be studied to gain understanding of the real system. In contrast, a conceptual model can also be useful for developing understanding of a system by illustrating the relationships between major components of a system. It is a reasonable starting point for stakeholders as they identify and map out the major com onents of the s stem in uestion

A particularly interesting exchange during one of the panel discussions involved the use of numerical models to fill gaps in existing data and monitoring systems. For example, Nancy Rabalais, executive director and professor of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, observed that the model she and her colleagues use to explore the dynamics of hypoxia has become very sophisticated and can accurately hindcast the data they have collected over the years. “That’s a very important part of the understanding.”

Chuanmin Hu, professor in marine science at the University of South Florida, noted that models are critical in understanding the ecosystem “as a system and not just as a current point or current parameter.” Without models, it would be very difficult to understand the connectivity between parts of the system, such as the deep ocean with coastal estuaries. Pointing to the implausibility that a truly comprehensive monitoring program will be affordable, Jonathan Porthouse, senior manager with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, said that enough data nevertheless can be gathered to calibrate and validate models. These models then can be used to project the effects of proposed projects into the future. “Modeling is probably the only way you can get to questions about ‘what if?’”

Rebecca Allee, fisheries biologist and senior scientist for NOAA’s Gulf Coast Services Center, observed that models will have difficulty incorporating some relevant factors, such as living marine resources, but many parameters can be modeled. Coupling models with remote sensing then can yield “a great tool.” Allee also emphasized the value of visualization tools to communicate the results of models for vetting management strategies. “If you can find a common theme, like sea level rise in the Gulf, and you can demonstrate its effects through visualization so that the community understands it, they’re much more likely to support mitigation projects.”

Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×

GULF RESTORATION PROGRAMS: EMERGING ROLES AND POTENTIAL FOR MONITORING

The NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program

Rebecca Allee, fisheries biologist and senior scientist for NOAA’s Gulf Coast Services Center, leads the science plan development team for the RESTORE Act Science Program, which has been developing a long-term plan to guide the ecological and economic recovery of the Gulf Coast states.1 One of the focus areas of the plan is “holistic approaches to observing and monitoring with advanced and innovative technologies to monitor fisheries, federal trust species, and other natural resources, and data integration tools focused on the observing needs in the Gulf of Mexico.” As examples of this monitoring, the plan cites “observation and monitoring efforts to identify, map, and assess habitats, including poorly known deep‐water habitats, including relevant physical and biochemical parameters” and “observation assets to monitor resources, including fisheries and protected species, and to enhance and improve fishery and wildlife management in the Gulf.” However, NOAA does not have the resources to pursue these and the other research priorities in the plan on its own, said Allee. Instead, it is looking to partner with other organizations to leverage its resources.

She particularly emphasized the need for a comprehensive habitat inventory done at a high resolution and with consistent spatial and temporal sampling. As an example of the difficulties involved, she cited the zooplankton sampling done by the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP). Because zooplankton are concentrated in different areas in the spring and in the fall, sampling is done nearshore or offshore, with long-term annual assessments. “We need to try to find more consistent ways of establishing those sampling sites.”

A comprehensive inventory could be linked with the ecosystem services that each habitat provides, with a standardized and consistent approach taken for valuing those habitats, said Allee. This would provide a resource for the science and resources managers in the Gulf region, particularly in the prioritization of restoration projects. Furthermore, longer term trends such as climate change could be built into the valuations, which would assist with both adaptive management and gap analysis.

Finally, Allee pointed out that data prior to 1980 on ecosystems are largely lacking, which makes it difficult to do long-term trend analyses of either upper or lower trophic levels. “We need to have sustained monitoring programs, not just of the biological but of the physio-chemical environment.” This will require partnerships to provide the needed spatial and temporal coverage. Even with the Gulf hypoxia program (described in the previous chapter), she observed, NOAA cannot maintain the monitoring on its own. “We’ve looking for partners and opportunities to leverage.”

The Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Jonathan Porthouse, senior manager with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, briefly described the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, which is receiving money directed from court settlements from BP and Transocean to fund projects benefiting the natural resources of the Gulf Coast that were impacted by the spill.2

The funding available to programs like NFWF provides a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to approach the challenges facing the Gulf as “a single restoration project,” Porthouse said. All organizations involved in the effort have a part to play in constructing a comprehensive program that has long-term impacts. “We don’t want to spread random acts of restoration kindness around the coast,” he said. “We are looking to find a way to take the restoration opportunity here, aggregate it, and get it to the point where it truly does produce measurable, trackable, and reportable ecosystem services.”

The Fund’s primary focus has been on habitats. “If we restore habitats appropriately, many of the ecosystem services we’re looking to have benefiting the Gulf Coast will take care of themselves,” Porthouse said. In the Gulf region, a focus on habitats encompasses coastal islands, barrier islands, beaches, dunes, bays, and estuaries. In particular, the fund is concentrating on oysters, red snapper and other reef fish, Gulf Coast birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals.

Monitoring is a critical component of the Fund’s efforts. Monitoring helps the Fund determine whether a given project is meeting its objectives. “Is [a project] having the right physical and chemical effect on the environment? If so, does it actually have the ecological effects which you thought you were going to have?” Furthermore, monitoring is important not just under current conditions but as conditions change in the future.

Although the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund is focused on restoring fish and wildlife habitat, it can incorporate some monitoring to inform other restoration activities. However, linking these efforts requires an overall plan or conceptual model that encompasses the entire suite of restoration activities, extending even

____________________

1The plan and more information about the program are available at http://restoreactscienceprogram.noaa.gov.

2More information about the fund is available at http://www.nfwf.org/gulf/Pages/home.aspx.

Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×

to activities such as tourism or education. A conceptual model would bring all of these activities together and reveal data gaps and the priority areas that need to be addressed. For example, a model could link the oyster fishery to the oyster fisher to community cohesion, with “very clear linkages between each of the nodes in the diagram,” said Porthouse. It also would link the nearshore and the offshore, providing a way for activities in one area to stimulate activities in another, as well as bringing together the different groups involved in these activities.

Porthouse emphasized issues of geographic and temporal scale. Restoring an oyster bed is not the same as restoring an oyster fishery. Although they are related, they have different outcomes and data needs. Similarly, a short-term focus may mean losing sight of long-term trends, so that the signal gets lost in the noise. He also emphasized the need for mapping, such as sub-tidal habitat mapping, with consistent time scales and methodologies across states and regions.

The Gulf Research Program could provide a valuable service in supporting development of the conceptual model needed to coordinate restoration activities, Porthouse concluded. Such support could facilitate a conversation about data gaps, planning, and decision making. The Program also could evaluate programs as they move forward, both as individual entities and as parts of a greater whole.

MONITORING AND INDUSTRY

Long-term environmental monitoring can be extremely helpful to industry, observed Ruth Perry, a marine science and regulatory policy specialist with Shell Oil. Such monitoring can address baseline information gaps and bring value in managing risks. Companies can demonstrate compliance with environmental regulations based not on precautionary measures but on good science, which serves the purposes of both industry and regulators.

Perry mentioned several areas where the support of the Gulf Research Program could make a difference for industry. One is real-time ocean observing over extended periods. This could include not only physical oceanography but biological, chemical, and ecological monitoring programs incorporated into fixed and autonomous ocean observing platforms.

She added that the Gulf Research Program could support monitoring of the effects of activities on ecosystems, both on a local and more regional scale. Baselines and changes to baselines could be measured not only in the nearshore and offshore but in the deep Gulf, where data are much scarcer.

For its part, industry can contribute scientific and technical support to these efforts along with its experience in establishing joint industry projects. In particular, industry has an existing infrastructure of communication and power systems, platforms, and operations that could support monitoring efforts. Collaboration of industry trade associations and financial leveraging of stakeholders are other assets available from industry. Industry has many ongoing projects and activities that could inform a monitoring program in the Gulf. Both fixed platforms and autonomous vehicles could play a role in observations. From Shell’s perspective, priorities are to integrate existing efforts, develop integrated ocean observing platforms, and make shared and accessible data available, said Perry. Industry recognizes that its data have value to multiple stakeholders, and though proprietary issues will always be a factor, much of the science work Shell is doing could be disseminated if the appropriate cyberinfrastructure were in place, Perry said. In particular, a centralized database that integrated existing data with new data could make information widely available to stakeholders.

Perry used marine sound as an example of the potential for collaborative research. An observing system that combined cabled instruments, existing platforms, autonomous underwater vehicles, and animal telemetry could serve many different needs in the region. However, developing such a system requires that local communities of interest be engaged, including academia and government, to leverage the strengths of existing organizations for the conduct of research and for data sharing.

IDENTIFYING DATA PRIORITIES TO SUPPORT MONITORING

Satellites, for example, provide a way to generate not just imagery but quantitative information about environmental issues in the Gulf. In essence, satellites can act as a “virtual buoy system,” said Chuanmin Hu, professor in marine science at the University of South Florida, with the ability to place a virtual buoy wherever it is needed. They also can provide time series, which can be used to compare current conditions with baseline conditions.

However, satellite data cannot answer all questions, Hu acknowledged. But the kinds of data available from satellites can be extended to different regions, such as estuaries, and different parameters once new data products are validated. In addition, new technologies will create new opportunities for long-term monitoring. For example, NASA and the European Space Agency are currently planning future satellite missions that will have higher spatial and temporal resolutions.

The most important question, Hu emphasized, is what data are needed for monitoring. Many groups collect data from the Gulf. Leveraging and coordinat-

Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×

ing these data can both multiply the value of the data already being collected and reveal gaps in data coverage. Greater communication is the key to such coordination, he said, so that stakeholders know what data are available. Greater communications also can make clear to data providers what resource managers need.

Hu emphasized the need to prioritize in answering questions about the Gulf. “You cannot do everything,” he said. “As a group, we need to prioritize what we do.”

OBSERVATIONS OF THE BREAKOUT GROUPS

As noted earlier, participants broke into four breakout groups to discuss the two major areas of opportunity addressed during the workshop. The main points of the breakout groups are summarized here. Again, these observations should not be seen as the conclusions of the workshop participants as a whole. Nor are they activities that the workshop participants thought should be pursued by the Gulf Research Program. Rather, they are opportunities related to ecosystem restoration and related activities, with which the Program could consider.

Environmental Restoration: A Synopsis of the Discussion

• Monitor the success of restoration, from the project level to the landscape level, including cumulative effects and unintended benefits. Many restoration projects are often designed to be site or resource specific, but with the number and diversity of restoration projects being considered across the Gulf region, there is an opportunity to evaluate suites of related projects for their common successes and challenges. Such efforts may also inform managers of trends or patterns that may be only observable at larger or even landscape scales.

• Monitor socioeconomic conditions, including community metrics. As restoration projects are being developed, there is an opportunity to integrate local socioeconomic metrics as part of the evaluation of the restoration effort. A monitoring program of a successful environmental restoration project has the potential of capturing the linkages between human communities and the environment, which could facilitate public understanding of the value of a restored environment and its contribution to the local communities’ economy and wellbeing.

• Hold a workshop with stakeholders to prioritize coastal ecosystem services for study, including sites that need to be monitored as soon as possible before a restoration project begins. Nearly all ecosystems provide a variety of ecosystem services, but the benefits and value of those services can vary geographically, and exploiting one service can negatively impact other services in both time and space. Engaging stakeholders via a workshop and characterizing the tradeoffs could inform the public and help them prioritize among the services to be restored.

• Monitor fish tissue burden of contaminants, sediment burden and flux of contaminants, bird populations, and threatened or endangered species, including the effects of management on populations. Following the DWH oil spill, there was considerable public concern about the fate and impacts of the remaining oil (and dispersants) that may persist throughout the food web and Gulf environment.

• Monitor the habitat impacts of freshwater and sediment diversions to answer questions around effectiveness, including the effects on key estuaries. Coastal wetland loss along the northern Gulf is a decades-long challenge that more recently has been exacerbated by sea level rise. Much of the loss is due to the lack of sediments being delivered into the wetlands by rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Freshwater diversions are a technique to address one cause of wetland loss—the failure to maintain elevations sufficient to support emergent vegetation forming the wetland habitats (Allison and Meselhe, 2010). There is a diversity of perspectives on the effectiveness of such diversions as well as concerns around the impacts of these efforts on fisheries, especially oysters (Melancon, 2010).

• Use models to identify the restoration potential of ecosystems and to inform adaptive management, with consideration of changing baselines as, for example, sea level rises. It is important to understand baseline ecosystem conditions, existing conditions, and to the extent possible, estimate ecosystem response to alternative management scenarios. Incorporating ecosystem process and function into restoration planning and implementation may improve the sustainability of restoration projects.

• Conduct public awareness, education, and outreach campaigns to explain restoration science and the importance of the deep ocean, with assessments of effects of communications and education programs. Until the DWH oil spill, the deep ocean was relatively unknown to the public. As restoration projects are being developed in the Gulf region, there is an opportunity to educate the public about the deep ocean and build awareness of its importance.

• Involve communities in monitoring and research before, during, and after projects are undertaken. Community engagement in areas targeted for research and restoration has the potential for advancing community stewardship of the resources and enhancing sustainability of the restoration projects.

Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×
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Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×
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Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×
Page 11
Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×
Page 12
Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×
Page 13
Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×
Page 14
Suggested Citation:"3 Monitoring to Support Environmental Restoration." National Research Council. 2015. Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21673.
×
Page 15
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Environmental monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico poses extensive challenges and significant opportunities. Multiple jurisdictions manage this biogeographically and culturally diverse region, whose monitoring programs tend to be project-specific by design and funding. As a result, these programs form more of a monitoring patchwork then a network. At the same time, the Gulf monitoring community faces a unique opportunity to organize and think differently about monitoring - including how best to allocate and manage the resources for this large marine ecosystem and its communities - as a result of the infusion of resources for environmental restoration and related activities after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Opportunities for the Gulf Research Program: Monitoring Ecosystem Restoration and Deep Water Environments summarizes a Gulf Research Program workshop held on September 3-4, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The workshop gathered about 40 participants from the energy industry, state and federal government, academia, and nongovernmental organizations to examine two broad issues that were seen as time-sensitive opportunities in light of significant investments in the Gulf for restoration and accelerating development of energy resources in the deep Gulf: monitoring ecosystem restoration and deep water environments. As participants explored potential opportunities for the Program to consider, they noted the essential role that communication and outreach play in successful monitoring, and the importance of applying an ecosystem service approach to monitoring, forging partnerships among stakeholders, and supporting efforts to organize and manage monitoring data.

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