Conclusions and Recommendations
The nation's marine habitats are precious national assets. Their ecological and economic importance are greatly threatened by both human activity and natural forces. Habitat conversion and degradation resulting from industrial, residential, and recreational activities and pollution are adversely affecting the ecological diversity and balance required to maintain the health of each ecosystem, including important fisheries resources. Unless effectively mitigated, the degradation and loss of natural functions and coastal acreage in an ecosystem inevitably and adversely affect the system's physical structure and biological productivity. Even then, near- and midterm loss of natural functions can be substantial because human pressures on remaining natural sites will increase as coastal populations continue to grow.
Marine habitats can be protected, enhanced, restored, or created with current science and engineering capabilities (although restoration of natural functioning can vary significantly). Scientific and engineering knowledge, procedures, and technologies for shoreline protection and for habitat enhancement, restoration, and creation (collectively referred to in this report as restoration technologies) are substantial, although not complete. The knowledge and technology bases nevertheless provide a strong foundation from which to launch a credible coastal engineering program to arrest habitat loss and degradation. The same base could support programs to achieve a net gain in high-quality marine habitat acreage through well-planned and well-executed protection and restoration initiatives. If habitats are restored, steps should be taken to prevent their subsequent degradation and loss, otherwise the effort will be for naught.
Further collaboration of the scientific and engineering communities is essential
to advancing the scientific and technical bases for habitat protection and restoration. Multidisciplinary goal setting, planning, teamwork, and synergistic application of scientific and engineering knowledge have shown that specific habitat protection, enhancement, restoration, and creation objectives can be achieved more reliably by improving collaboration among practitioners in the scientific and engineering disciplines.
The principal obstacles to wider use of coastal engineering capabilities in habitat protection, enhancement, restoration and creation are the cost and the institutional, regulatory, and management barriers to using the best available technologies and practices. Existing scientific and engineering capabilities will not achieve their full potential in protecting and restoring marine habitat in the absence of a focused policy to guide their application. Also needed are increased flexibility in decision making to allow consideration of innovative and alternate approaches to achieve goals and objectives; improved communications among practitioners, regulators, and decision makers; and better professional preparation for all facets of marine habitat management. Development and use of economic incentives are also needed to stimulate habitat protection and restoration by private parties and the industrial sector.
Among the recurring examples of institutionally constrained applications of restoration technology are use of dredged material for habitat improvement and creative use of marine habitats to provide nonstructural shoreline protection. Institutional constraints foster a general wariness of innovative but unproven applications of technology. Innovative use of technology is also constrained by uncertainties over the ability to replicate natural functions through restoration projects, inadequate transfer of information on technology applications, inadequate preparation for decision making and project implementation, and a paucity of incentives to protect and improve marine habitat.
Protection and preservation of natural habitats are inherently better than waiting for damage or loss to occur, but economic incentives to encourage preservation of marine habitat in a natural state are few. Quantification of economic value and environmental benefits remains extremely difficult and controversial. When assessed for alternative uses, marine habitat acreage has typically been valued for natural functions at less than for industrial, commercial, recreational, or residential uses. The public has limited awareness of the environmental and economic benefits that can be achieved through consistent application of existing knowledge and technology to coastal habitat projects. Realizing these benefits fully will be difficult unless public awareness programs are implemented in support of committing public resources to protection and restoration work on the scale needed to achieve a net gain in acreage.
Applied research based on theoretical principles but conducted project by project has been an important means for advancing the state of practice. Even projects that did not meet design objectives provided important experience for future applications of technology in marine habitat management. The results and
lessons learned from applied research in marine habitat protection and restoration have been supported by a variety of sources, including government agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit groups. Not all the successes and failures are documented; nor are the worthwhile results sufficiently distributed. But much information is available and is in sufficient quantity and quality to justify continuation and expansion of both applied and basic research on habitat protection, enhancement, restoration, and creation.
DO HABITAT PROTECTION, ENHANCEMENT, RESTORATION, AND CREATION TECHNOLOGIES WORK?
Scientific Knowledge and Engineering Capabilities Can be Effectively Applied
Current scientific knowledge and coastal engineering capabilities, although not complete, can be used effectively to protect, enhance, restore, and create marine habitats. Success in meeting project objectives is most readily achieved when multidisciplinary application of scientific knowledge and coastal engineering capabilities is systematically carried throughout planning, construction, and post project monitoring and evaluation. Knowledge of marine and estuarine systems can be applied effectively and enhanced with well-planned monitoring of the ecosystem's functions before, during, and after restoration activities, including comparisons with similar natural habitats. Traditional coastal engineering technology has considerable potential for providing protective measures for habitat management projects.
Coastal engineering technologies, such as the use of dredged material for establishment of emergent wetlands, beach nourishment and the construction of offshore underwater berms from natural materials for coastal storm protection, have proved effective in enhancing and creating marine habitat. Use of these technologies has been successful at reduced costs because of improved equipment and reductions in the distances over which dredged material is transported for placement. Dredging technology is especially important as a means to move and place bottom sediments. Most dredged material is uncontaminated and is therefore a valuable natural resource; its judicious placement is a fundamental and principal application of technology in marine habitat management. Nevertheless, under the present federal guidelines for cost sharing, use of dredged material primarily to protect marine habitats may be beyond the financial resources available to many prospective project sponsors.
The development of marine habitat for natural protection of shorelines, as in estuarine settings with low to moderate physical energy from waves and currents, is largely unexploited because of institutional constraints, including a lack of economic incentives. The federal and state agencies responsible for marine habitat management have been successful in applying restoration technology to
enhance and protect natural shorelines only when it was the least costly alternative. Restricting project funding to only the least-cost alternative has resulted in fewer opportunities to apply restoration technology than could be realized with greater decision making flexibility.
A Multidisciplinary Approach Improves the Potential for Success
The planning and execution of marine habitat projects are best accomplished using an integrated, multidisciplinary approach because no one discipline brings the full body of scientific and engineering knowledge needed. When narrow single-discipline perspectives dominated, successful project development and implementation were hindered. Coastal engineering projects involving marine habitat can be improved through a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to guide project development from goal and objective setting through performance monitoring, measurement, and evaluation.
RECOMMENDATION: Federal and state agencies, project sponsors, and practitioners of marine habitat protection, improvement, and creation should require multidisciplinary project planning, design, implementation, evaluation, and management. The methodology employed should:
evaluate and set goals and priorities;
clearly define measures of success;
accommodate institutional factors;
effectively address known ecosystem functions, seasonal variations in habitat use, hydraulics, hydrology, and other engineering and scientific considerations;
establish a rigorous monitoring regime; and
maintain the integrity and continuity of the process.
Among the agencies that should require multidisciplinary processes are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and state and local authorities with marine habitat management responsibilities.
Determination of Project Success Depends on Sound Performance Criteria and Monitoring
Successful project performance is the most productive, conclusive, and reliable means of demonstrating the viability of restoration technology and building public and professional confidence in its application. Structural and functional monitoring before, during, and after project implementation are crucial to determining
the effectiveness of the engineering methods, technologies, and practices used and their relation to natural functions. But many marine habitat management projects lack well-defined criteria that are necessary to assessing their performance. Many projects that look like they have achieved design objectives do not include monitoring programs to establish or document performance relative to scientific and engineering parameters. Refinement of individual project design during implementation to meet project-specific conditions is not often found in project plans, but it is especially important when innovative approaches and emerging technologies are used. Rigorous, well-structured performance criteria and monitoring regimes are needed. Credible criteria and monitoring regimes are based on a scientifically sound understanding of ecosystem functioning, including stability requirements. Such monitoring over a suitable period and at intervals matched to site-specific conditions provides an adequate and credible means to identify design and implementation problems while also promoting accountability in project planning, implementation, maintenance, and operation.
RECOMMENDATION: Public authorities responsible for approving marine habitat projects and project sponsors should formally establish the criteria by which project performance will be assessed as part of the approval process. These criteria, at the minimum, should be based on sound engineering and scientific principles.
RECOMMENDATION: Public authorities and other entities responsible for approving or permitting habitat projects should require project sponsors to commit to long-term maintenance and monitoring for a time span sufficient to show satisfactory performance, to provide the means for determining whether project objectives are achieved, and what, if any, corrective actions may be needed, and to promote accountability.
RECOMMENDATION: Monitoring and maintenance regimes should include:
frequent near-term monitoring to ensure project development according to design and performance criteria;
quarterly or semiannual monitoring for 3–7 years after construction to assess performance and provide a basis for determining what corrective action may be needed; and
long-term monitoring for 5–20 years to document performance and lessons learned.
RECOMMENDATION: Monitoring regimes should be designed to concurrently contribute to the advancement of scientific and engineering knowledge about the technologies and techniques that were employed.
WHAT INSTITUTIONAL IMPROVEMENTS ARE NEEDED?
A National Policy is Needed to Guide Marine Habitat Protection and Restoration
The degradation and loss of marine habitats, although regional, are national in their implications. A national policy should be promulgated to give focus to problem solving and corrective action and to obtain the maximum benefit from the public resources committed to activities affecting marine habitats. The application of scientific and engineering knowledge and capabilities that provide the technical means to protect and restore marine habitats should be guided by a national policy with well-defined goals and objectives. Strong national commitment and leadership should guide reasonable cooperative efforts to balance ecological and economic needs and mount programs to change attitudes toward activities that adversely affect marine ecosystems. National policy, processes, and resource decision making should be based on sound environmental, economic, political, scientific, and technical objectives and principles. Direct government intervention should be used when necessary to arrest and reverse the trend of marine habitat degradation and loss.
The need to establish and focus a national effort is urgent. Sufficient scientific and engineering knowledge is available to underpin immediate policy formation. The committee finds it imperative that the federal government promulgate national policy within the next 2 years to arrest the loss and degradation of marine habitats and establish a long-term objective of achieving a substantial net gain in marine habitat acreage.
RECOMMENDATION: The executive and legislative branches of the federal government should establish a national policy to prevent or, when development is determined to be in the national interest, offset the further degradation, conversion, and loss of marine habitat. The policy should specify goals and establish a period for its implementation.
Implementation Goals and Objectives Are Essential
Goals are needed for the many elements comprising coastal ecosystem management. Agencies with marine habitat management responsibilities should examine their missions, goals, and performance to assess whether they are making full use of their existing authorities and fulfilling the responsibilities defined in their charters. There is an urgent need for review of each agency's authorities and program objectives to identify conflicting responsibilities and policies relevant to coastal ecosystem management and to identify and define new policies that will benefit the marine habitat component.
Enhancement and restoration are more costly than preservation, but considering all the benefits and costs, private and social, direct and indirect, each situation
must be weighed individually. When all costs and benefits—including long-term ecological impacts as well as short-term economic ones—cannot be measured and compared with confidence, presumption of the best alternative should fall to the protection of what exists. Current and future capabilities to protect, enhance, restore, and create marine habitats should not be used as an excuse for converting natural habitats to other uses in the coastal zone. The decision making process should provide for balanced treatment and consideration of all legitimate interests. Careful consideration should be given to the effect any conversion might have on the ecosystem and dependent species and on national environmental objectives. Once established, a restored or created coastal habitat should be protected from damage from human activities.
RECOMMENDATION: Each federal and state agency with marine habitat management responsibilities, within the scope of that responsibility, should develop habitat protection and improvement goals and objectives based on overarching national policy guidelines, quantify them to the fullest extent possible, and establish milestones for their attainment. Further, federal agencies should exercise their marine habitat management responsibilities in a holistic, integrated manner. Emphasis should first be placed on protecting and enhancing existing marine habitat, followed by restoration and creation of habitats, as feasible.
Institutional Mechanisms Need to be Improved
Federal and state regulatory programs can play a vital role in stimulating the use of beneficial technology. Through the elimination of overlapping federal agency and state administrative structures and policies that create communication and program implementation problems, significant improvements can be achieved. Existing institutional policies, regulations, and procedures create a narrowly focused framework that often
creates disincentives rather than incentives to support policy;
limits options for more effective use of natural resources;
limits the opportunity for pilot, demonstration, and experimental programs, including technology transfer and adaptation;
constrains implementation of changes necessary to advance marine habitat restoration practice; and
results in limited publication of project results, including evaluation of the technologies used, thereby leading to repetition of approaches without the benefits to be gained from experience.
When project goals and criteria for evaluation are realistically set during project definition and approval, the degree of success is governed largely by institutional constraints and the skill with which technology is implemented. The
institutional shortcomings are broadly spread throughout the administrative and management structures of all the federal and state agencies involved. At the federal level, there is a lack of comprehensive planning, programming, and budget coordination for project development, monitoring, and research. New ways need to be found to fund acquisition or purchase of development rights for existing marine habitats and to fund marine habitat protection, enhancement, restoration, and creation projects.
Many federal civil works projects in the coastal zone were constructed prior to recognition of marine habitat as an important environmental consideration in design. The potential to incorporate environmental benefits into existing projects that are near marine habitats should be assessed and an implementation program developed.
Standards requiring use of the best available technology for marine habitat management are insufficient and are not well-regulated. Determination of the best measures, whether for protection or habitat improvement, are often not based on an understanding of how a coastal ecosystem works. There is limited flexibility in decision making to encourage or even permit the application of innovative and emerging technologies. Nor is project-by-project learning encouraged as a primary source for essential insight on project construction and operation.
Effective interagency coordination is required to carry out protection, improvement, and creation policies; guide determinations of preservation and improvement needs; and provide a constructive means to address competing interests. But regional coordination of public agencies with marine habitat management responsibilities and private interests is often more ad hoc than planned. Key pathways or mechanisms encouraging the exchange of information, the stimulation of technology innovation, and expert and public review of individual agency goals and progress within a region should be established. Commercial, scientific, and public interest representatives should be particularly useful and involved in these functions. Better coordination and consensus building mechanisms can lead to a more complete basis for decision making on needs for habitat preservation, improvement, and creation; innovative use of technologies; and allocation of resources to publicly and privately sponsored habitat projects.
The ability to comment effectively in a timely manner on regulatory matters pertaining to marine habitat management varies by agency. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreement on funding transfers provides a means to improve the latter's meeting its coordination responsibilities under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. A similar level of support, if provided to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), would enhance that agency's capability to represent the marine resources for which it is responsible.
Well-established coordination infrastructures among some parties with marine habitat management responsibilities could be better exploited to carry out national marine habitat management policy. For example, the NMFS should examine the marine habitat responsibilities and national coverage of marine regions
by regional Fisheries Management Councils ensure that marine habitat management responsibilities receive adequate consideration and treatment. Similarly, cognizant state authorities should examine the role and coordination functions of regional fisheries commissions and other regional and local bodies in marine habitat management.
Project results, analyses, and experience are not widely circulated. As a consequence, marine habitat management initiatives are characterized by repetition nationally. Considerable information is often developed during project planning and implementation, but publication of results is often constrained by limited resources or restrictive publication policies. Because of its evolutionary stage of development, marine habitat management efforts would greatly benefit from broader publication of project results.
The economic values of particular species, their population levels, and of their habitats, although difficult to quantify, are essential in establishing policies, goals, and objectives for marine habitat management generally and in setting project-specific parameters. Advancement of the economic valuation of marine resources is needed to improve the allocation of resources for publicly and privately sponsored projects such as shoreline engineering, directional drilling, and construction of offshore underwater berms, thereby providing alternatives to reactive mitigation techniques.
RECOMMENDATION: All federal, state, and local agencies with jurisdiction over or responsibilities for marine habitat management should:
collectively and individually modify policy and administrative procedures to improve opportunities for the application of appropriate technology and implementation of marine habitat projects;
collaborate in developing administrative approaches and programs that encourage and support the innovative application of available and emerging technologies;
improve interorganizational coordination for better accommodation of competing interests;
consider the environmental and economic benefits derived from nonstructural measures including the productive use of dredged material, in the benefit-cost ratios of coastal habitat projects; and
examine the feasibility of improving economic incentives for marine habitat protection and restoration.
RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should revise its policies concerning the transportation and placement of suitable dredged material to facilitate its use as a resource rather than as a waste product (spoil). Corps emphasis on disposal of dredged material
in the least cost, environmentally acceptable manner should be reoriented to emphasize its beneficial uses.
RECOMMENDATION: Federal agencies should review existing projects to determine the feasibility of initiating improvements that would benefit marine habitat. If the review is beyond an agency's existing authority, the agency should seek both enabling authority from Congress (similar to that provided to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Section 306 of the Water Resources Development Act [WRDA] of 1990 and Sections 203–204 of WRDA 1992) and implementation resources and should establish an implementation program.
RECOMMENDATION: In view of the Fish and Wildlife Funding Agreement between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which enables interagency transfers of funds to enhance USFWS execution of its obligations under the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, the Corps and the National Marine Fisheries Service should establish a parallel arrangement to achieve the same objective.
RECOMMENDATION: Agencies with responsibilities for marine habitat management should make a concerted effort to publish and otherwise broadly distribute results and lessons learned from marine habitat protection, enhancement, restoration, and creation initiatives.
Continuing Professional Development Is Essential
Continued professional development, including postacademic training for coastal engineering, is needed to ensure a credible base of expertise within the restoration industry. Improvement is needed in scientific and engineering knowledge within natural resources agencies, engineering and consulting firms, and special interest groups. The limited number of trained people in the public and private sector, coupled with inadequate technical education, limits the effectiveness of marine habitat protection and enhancement efforts. Cross training in the engineering and scientific disciplines fills gaps in technical education, enhances the cooperative effort between the engineering and scientific disciplines, and minimizes the occurrence of irregular and conflicting outcomes in project planning and implementation. Specifically, multidisciplinary training for coastal engineers should prepare them for effective response to the wide-range engineering, ecological, and social issues that influence planning, design, implementation, and operation of marine habitat projects. It also needs to prepare them to work on multidisciplinary project teams. The committee believes that incorporating basic environmental principles in the beginning courses of engineering and scientific
disciplines would contribute significantly to improved environmental literacy and would lay the foundation for multidisciplinary teamwork and continuing professional development that is essential to advancing marine habitat management practices. Changes in academic curricula to advance environmental literacy are encouraged.
Professional certification programs pertinent to marine habitat management projects, although providing for a minimum of technical education and field experience and sometimes the execution of an ethics statement, do not guarantee that certified professionals can succeed on a given project. Nevertheless, the committee believes that these practitioners are in a better position to meet protection, enhancement, restoration, or creation goals and objectives.
RECOMMENDATION: Continuing professional education of resource agency personnel and practitioners should be required to improve the decision making, planning and design, and implementation of marine habitat management projects.
RECOMMENDATION: Federal, state, and local agency personnel and restoration practitioners involved in planning, approving, and carrying out marine habitat management projects should be encouraged to seek professional certification within their respective disciplines and where appropriate, environmental professionals or other relevant professional designation.
RECOMMENDATION: The Environmental Protection Agency should encourage and support development of nationally recognized standards and meaningful privately operate programs for certification of individuals and accreditation of organizations performing environmental work.
WHAT RESEARCH IS NEEDED TO ADVANCE THE STATE OF PRACTICE?
In view of increased human dependence on the coastal zone and the increasing pressure on natural resources, marine habitat research should be elevated in priority. A systematic research program would provide a firmer scientific basis for guiding projects and filling technology gaps. For example, technology is needed for placement of dredged material at suitable elevations and in large-scale settings. Research should explicitly consider regional differences in natural processes.
Basic research is needed to overcome technical shortcomings in the scientific aspects of understanding marine habitat needs, functions, and processes. Basic research is also needed to develop a reliable means to predict the result of the application of engineering technology relative to scientific principles on a site-specific
basis. In particular, research should be directed to providing a capability for predicting the effects of hydrologic and other physical processes on marine habitat. The importance of fully functional habitats in maintaining the dynamics of local and regional coastal ecosystems is widely acknowledged. However, the economic value of maintaining ecosystem dynamics is difficult to quantify and evaluate.
Federal agencies with responsibilities for marine habitat management are engaged in coastal habitat research, and their efforts, although useful, have not been guided by a nationally focused research agenda. But in view of the limited resources available, a centrally coordinated or directed research program is needed; it will ensure the broadest possible reach and provide decisionmakers and practitioners with the information essential to determining the best application of scientific principles and available restoration technologies.
RECOMMENDATION: The nation should undertake a systematic program of fundamental and applied research designed to put habitat protection, enhancement, restoration, and creation technology on firmer scientific footing and to guide technology's use. The research program should address gaps in existing knowledge and technologies through experimental, pilot, and demonstration programs. Dedicated research is needed in the following areas:
natural functions in reconstructed habitats;
hydrology and hydraulics of marine ecosystems;
sediment properties influencing the physical and biological performance of habitat enhancement, restoration, and creation projects;
sediment transport by natural energy to support mathematical predictive modeling;
use of dredged material for marine habitat restoration;
habitat utilization by biota in marine ecosystems;
mechanisms of recruitment for marine intertidal biota;
structures and functions of artificial reefs; and
methodologies for economic evaluation of coastal habitats.
RECOMMENDATION: The executive branch of the federal government should designate an appropriate federal agency to convene an interagency committee to develop and coordinate a national research program for marine habitat management. The research program should establish implementation responsibilities and milestones. The committee should include in its membership representatives of the Departments of the Army, Commerce, and Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. Means should also be provided to obtain the advice of experts from the scientific and engineering communities.