BOX 5-1 Important Ideas Offered by the Workshop Participants
The views contained in the report are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the planning committee, or the National Research Council.
• Conduct public awareness, education, and outreach campaigns to explain restoration science, as well as the importance of the deep ocean.
• Recognize that job training and the long-term involvement of the residents of affected areas could increase the success of monitoring and restoration activities.
• Develop a clear set of questions that guide the design of a Gulf monitoring effort.
• Build a first-order ecosystem services model and use it to develop system understanding and guide future monitoring, including where to monitor, the spatial and temporal resolution, and the most effective deployment of technologies.
• Monitor socioeconomic conditions, including community metrics to understand the Gulf region’s demand for ecosystem services and their valuation.
• Use models to identify the restoration potential of ecosystems and to inform adaptive management, with consideration of changing baselines due to, for example, sea level rise.
• Support development of new technologies, including biomarkers, sensors, satellite telemetry, adaptive sampling, and improved analytic methods.
• Map habitats in three dimensions and their changes over time including types of habitat and competing uses
• Partner with the oil and gas industry to map benthic and benthic-associated habitats in the deep ocean to encourage the release and utilization of bathymetric data.
• Monitor upwelling and downwelling to understand the transport of nutrients to the outer continental shelf, using gliders, buoys, and satellites.
• Monitor deep ocean currents to assess contaminant movements, with the use of moorings and echo sounders in selected areas of the deep sea to validate ocean models.
The Gulf region supports a wide variety of environmental monitoring programs, many with extensive histories of observations and data analyses that have informed scientists and decision makers alike. Like most large coastal regions in the United States, the fragmented nature of the many programs and their objectives reflect the priorities of national, state, and local jurisdictions, not to mention the assortment of scientific questions that industry, NGO and academic researchers have worked to address over the past decades. However, the scope and scale of DWH oil spill highlighted the need for greater coordination and management of the monitoring data collected so that scientists and policy makers could better understand the impacts of the spill at an ecosystem level. As the region also faces other environmental stressors and changes, a regional approach may be the only way that managers will be able to effectively mitigate some of the impacts stemming from these large scale changes.
A regionally focused environmental monitoring program or network for the Gulf of Mexico will be a major, multifaceted, and expensive operational challenge. Identifying user needs and cutting-edge technologies and methodologies, and coordinating efforts could be effectively accomplished by a broad partnership. A key requirement for a regionally focused monitoring net-
work will be data management. Federal agencies such as NOAA (see chapter 2 discussion on data management) have developed programs to help stakeholders manage their data, but other Gulf-focused programs have been developed, most notably the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative’s Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC), which has developed a significant amount of data management infrastructure and has a thousand researchers from around the world submitting data.1
Opportunities to implement a regional ecosystem restoration strategy have already arisen, and more are likely to materialize over the coming few years. These opportunities include the enactment of the 2012 RESTORE Act, the Natural Resource Damage Restoration process, and the funding of the nongovernmental Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, the Natural Resource Trustees, and the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund all have indicated their commitment to applying strong science and engineering in the selection, design, execution, and assessment of projects. However, it is unclear at this point how they will provide for needed research, modeling, monitoring, and assessment. Restrictions likely will limit their ability to commit significant resources for science, other than as necessary for design and evaluative monitoring of specific restoration projects.
In short, many questions remain, in part due to the unprecedented level of resources that will be committed to ecosystem restoration, the challenges inherent in coordinating the Gulf States and federal agencies’ focus and efforts, and the substantial science and engineering challenges associated with design and assessment. The risks of poorly informed decision making are high.
The Gulf Research Program plans to take advantage of existing opportunities and catalyze new ones. While it is not the responsibility of the Program to undertake restoration or to provide the robust scientific foundation needed for this long-term undertaking, it will seek to leverage funds and contribute to long-term and regional strategies that bridge monitoring and restoration efforts. The suggestions of the workshop breakout groups for potential activities (see Chapters 2, 3, and 4) highlighted the rich opportunities that are present both to improve human well-being in the Gulf Coast region and to advance science.
In summarizing the key suggestions from the workshop, it might be useful to frame them in the context of the Program’s goals. While the tools and approaches used in environmental monitoring can support all three Program goals, the workshop focused on opportunities to use environmental monitoring to achieve Goal 3—advance understanding of the Gulf of Mexico region as a dynamic system with complex, interconnecting human and environmental systems, functions, and processes to inform the protection and restoration of ecosystem services (NRC, 2014a).
Goal 3 may be the most fundamental and broad of the Program’s goals, so there were many suggestions from the workshop that could support this goal. One of the challenges for all monitoring programs is developing and sustaining support over the life of a program, so effective communication is viewed as an essential tool for generating support for these efforts. With the substantial level of investment stemming from the DWH spill, there is a great deal of public interest in “how the money will be spent,” coupled with the public’s concern regarding the impacts of the spill on local resources. This level of interest provides a rare opportunity for education and outreach efforts by scientists and managers to 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. These efforts to engage the public could be further augmented via job training and the long-term involvement of the residents of affected areas which can influence the success of monitoring and restoration activities.
Understanding the large marine ecosystem of the Gulf is a daunting goal, and as noted in the presentation on the Gulf Coast Ocean Observing System build-out plan, there are a large number of questions, needs and objectives identified by the stakeholders in the region. However, most successful monitoring programs have been shown to address a small or finite number of questions so the development of a set of questions that need to be answered could drive the design of a Gulf monitoring effort—an important step moving forward. A number of the workshop presentations discussed ecosystem services as a metric or approach for use with the various restoration efforts underway or in development. Our current level of understanding of the ecosystem services of the Gulf is limited, but research to understand the function and processes of the Gulf ecosystem is a necessary step in quantifying and prioritizing those services and their benefits to the communities around the region.
Given the complexity of the Gulf’s services, scientists often turn to models in order to advance their understanding, so to build a first-order ecosystem services model and use it to develop system understanding and guide future monitoring, including where to monitor, the spatial and temporal resolution, and the most effective deployment of technologies would be a useful long-term Program goal. Any comprehensive research of the Gulf’s ecosystem services would benefit from monitor-
ing of socioeconomic conditions, including community metrics which is an important step in understanding the region’s demand for those services and their valuation. As researchers look to support restoration efforts, they can 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.
One of the key needs for advancing our understanding of the Gulf through monitoring will be through investments for technology development. Current monitoring efforts are often challenged by the costs of monitoring, especially in deep or remote locations that can cost upwards of $100,000 per day for ship time. New innovations and technologies are being developed and applied to monitoring objectives that will reduce costs, improve sampling, and provide validation for existing monitoring efforts. The suggestion to support development of new technologies, including biomarkers, sensors, satellite telemetry, adaptive sampling, and improved analytic methods captures this sentiment.
The deep Gulf presents the challenge of vast scale coupled with considerable unknowns regarding the ecology and biogeochemistry across three dimensions for any monitoring program, so prioritizing opportunities may be a useful step. Thus, opportunities that are foundational to advancing our understanding of the deep are such a priority. Mapping habitats in three dimensions and their changes over time, including types of habitat and competing uses could provide key insights into the distribution of important species (e.g., corals and marine mammals) and the movement patterns of nutrients and pollutants. The oil industry has a great deal of data, much of which is proprietary, from their exploratory surveys in the deep Gulf. An opportunity for partnering and sharing resources was articulated; in the efforts to map benthic and benthic-associated habitats in the deep ocean, consider including pilot projects with industry to map seafloor habitat in select sites of mutual interest—all to encourage the integration of private and public sector bathymetric data. Many workshop participants thought that these kinds of collaborations will be needed for all stakeholders interested in monitoring the deep, whether it is to leverage costs, share data, or work to protect living marine resources. Another major interest for monitoring the deep Gulf is developing a better understanding of the ecosystem services, such as the provisioning of nutrients into the food web of the Gulf. This can be accomplished in part by monitoring upwelling and downwelling to understand the transport of nutrients to the shelf, using gliders, buoys, and satellites. Tracking the transport of pollutants from the deep, a phenomenon unfortunately highlighted by the DWH spill, is another opportunity for advancing our understanding of the deep, so monitoring deep ocean currents to assess contaminant movements, with the use of moorings and echo sounders in selected areas of the deep sea to validate ocean models could help support that opportunity.
In combination with the earlier workshop on education and training and the subsequent workshop on community resilience and health, the workshop on environmental monitoring demonstrated how much could be gained by applying the National Academies' strengths in objectivity and independence within a collaborative process. The insights from all three workshops will provide the Gulf Research Program and its advisory board with valuable ideas and suggestions for the development of the program.