Effective Monitoring to Evaluate
Ecological Restoration in
the Gulf of Mexico
Committee on Effective Approaches for Monitoring and Assessing Gulf of Mexico
Ocean Studies Board
Water Science and Technology Board
Division on Earth and Life Studies
A Report of
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This activity was supported by the Gulf Research Program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-44037-0
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-44037-8
Digital Object Identifier: 10.17226/23476
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Suggested citation: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Effective Monitoring to Evaluate Ecological Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23476.
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COMMITTEE ON EFFECTIVE APPROACHES FOR MONITORING AND ASSESSING GULF OF MEXICO RESTORATION ACTIVITIES
Frank W. Davis, Chair, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis
David M. Burdick, University of New Hampshire
Loren D. Coen, Florida Atlantic University
Peter Doering, South Florida Water Management District
Frances Gulland, Marine Mammal Center
Kenneth L. Heck, Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory
Matthew K. Howard, Texas A&M University
Michael S. Kearney, University of Maryland
Paul A. Montagna, Harte Research Institute
Pamela T. Plotkin, Texas A & M University
Kenneth A. Rose, Louisiana State University
Eric P. Smith, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Heather M. Tallis, The Nature Conservancy
Ronald Thom, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Mark S. Woodrey, Mississippi State University
Claudia Mengelt, Senior Program Officer, Ocean Studies Board
Stephanie Johnson, Senior Program Officer, Water Science and Technology Board
Heather Coleman, Postdoctoral Fellow, Ocean Studies Board
Payton Kulina, Senior Program Assistant, Ocean Studies Board
OCEAN STUDIES BOARD
Larry A. Mayer, Chair, University of New Hampshire, Durham
E. Virginia Armbrust, University of Washington, Seattle
Kevin R. Arrigo, Stanford University, California
Claudia Benitez-Nelson, University of South Carolina, Columbia
Rita R. Colwell, University of Maryland, College Park
Sarah W. Cooksey, State of Delaware, Dover
Cortis K. Cooper, Chevron Corporation, San Ramon, California
James A. Estes, University of California, Santa Cruz
David Halpern, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
Patrick Heimbach, University of Texas at Austin
Susan E. Humphris, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Bonnie J. McCay, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
S. Bradley Moran, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Steven A. Murawski, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
John A. Orcutt, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
H. Tuba Özkan-Haller, Oregon State University, Corvallis
Martin D. Smith, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Margaret Spring, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
Don Walsh, International Maritime Incorporated, Myrtle Point, Oregon
Douglas Wartzok, Florida International University, Miami
Lisa D. White, University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University
Robert S. Winokur, Michigan Tech Research Institute, Maryland
Susan Roberts, Director
Claudia Mengelt, Senior Program Officer
Stacee Karras, Associate Program Officer
Pamela Lewis, Administrative Coordinator
Payton Kulina, Senior Program Assistant
Shubha Banskota, Financial Associate
Heather Coleman, Postdoctoral Fellow
This report was greatly enhanced by discussions with participants at the committee’s meetings as part of this study. The committee would like to acknowledge, especially, the efforts of those who gave presentations at the committee meetings: Laura Bowie (Gulf of Mexico Alliance), Toby Baker (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), Jean Cowan (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA]), Larry Crowder (Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions), Alyssa Dausman (Restore the Gulf), Theresa Davenport (Earth Resources Technology NOAA), Jeff de La Beaujardière (NOAA), Jenny Dugan (University of California, Santa Barbara), Justin Ehrenwerth (Restore the Gulf), Laura Engleby (NOAA), Carl Ferraro (Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources), Stephen Geiger (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), Elizabeth Godsey (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), Kyle Graham (Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana), Jessica Henkel (Restore the Gulf), Mark Hester (University of Louisiana at Lafeyette), Matt Jones (National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis), Meg Lamont (U.S. Geological Survey [USGS]), Megan LaPeyre (USGS), Mike Lee (USGS), Irving Mendelssohn (Louisiana State University), Mark Monaco (NOAA), Hilary Neckles (USGS), Frank Parker (NOAA), Jennifer Pollack (Texas A&M University), Jon Porthouse (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation), George Ramseur (Mississippi Department of Marine Resources), Teri Rowles (NOAA), Lawrence Rozas (NOAA), Ben Shorr (NOAA), Greg Steyer (USGS), Robert Twilley (Louisiana Sea Grant), and Amber Whittle (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). The committee would also like to thank all the staff at the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council, the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Council, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for answering many background questions and being available to attend our committee meetings.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Sam Bentley, Louisiana State University Coastal Studies Institute
Vicki Cornish, Marine Mammal Commission
Elizabeth Fetherston, Ocean Conservancy
James Gibeaut, Harte Research Institute
Jeff Gleason, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Selina Heppell, Oregon State University
Mark Luckenbach, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Hilary Neckles, U.S. Geological Survey
Jennifer Ruesink, University of Washington
Ponisseril Somasundaran, Columnia University
John Tirpak, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
David Yoskowitz, Texas A&M University
Shelby Walker, Oregon State University
Joy Zedler, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Holly Greening (Coordinator), Executive Director, Tampa Bay Estuary Program; and Dr. David M. Karl (NAS, Monitor), Director, Daniel K. Inouye Center for Microbial Oceanography, University of Hawai’i, appointed by the Divison on Earth and Life Studies and by the Report Review Committee, who were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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The Macondo Well Deepwater Horizon (DWH) rig explosion in the spring of 2010 resulted in the largest accidental oil spill in U.S. history, impacting vast areas of ocean, seafloor, and coastal ecosystems and exacting a heavy toll on the the region’s natural resource–dependent communities. Legal settlements in the wake of DWH led to the provision of approximately $16 billion in restoration funds administered through three major programs: the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustee Council, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, and the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Council. These programs will support a wide range of restoration projects with objectives ranging from coastal and offshore habitat restoration to recovery of species of concern to stormwater management, water quality improvement and land acquisition. Monitoring will be an integral part of these programs to document restoration progress and outcomes, to gain new knowledge to inform future project design and management, and to inform the restoration programs and public on whether funds are being spent effectively.
Also as part of the post-DWH legal settlements, the federal government requested that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) establish a new program—the Gulf Research Program—to fund and conduct activities to enhance oil system safety, human health, and environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico and other oil and gas producing regions of the U.S. continental shelf. This report was produced at the request of the Gulf Research Program. The committee was asked to identify best approaches for monitoring and evaluating restoration activities. Over the course of one year the committee held three public meetings, two in Washington, DC, and a third in New Orleans, LA, as well as a closed meeting in Santa Barbara, CA, focused on report writing. The public meetings included oral presentations from representatives of the three Gulf restoration programs as well as other state, federal, and academic restoration groups, and members of the public.
The committee was careful not to overstep its charge. In particular, we did not address how to restore the species, habitats, and ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico or what to restore them to. Rather, the committee focused on providing guidance on best practices for monitoring, evaluation, and adaptive management of restoration progress. Given the enormous scope of post-DWH restoration efforts, the committee also deliberately confined the range of topics and ecological systems to address, as summarized below.
Restoration occurs in the larger context of coupled ecological and social systems where social goals and policies drive and are driven by ecosystem condition and trends. A comprehensive restoration monitoring approach arguably requires joint monitoring of both ecological and social outcomes of restoration actions. At its outset the committee discussed with the sponsor whether to tackle both ecological monitoring as well as socioeconomic monitoring of ecosystem services and the associated resilience of Gulf Coast communities. Based on the guidance by the sponsor, but also given the expertise of the committee, the group decided to confine the report to the ecological dimensions of restoration monitoring. However, the committee recognizes the need for monitoring of socioeconomic outcomes of gulf restoration and their coupling to ecological outcomes.
Those familiar with the Gulf of Mexico will appreciate the enormous diversity and complexity of the region’s ecosystems. The committee elected to focus on delivering key principles and approaches for restoration monitoring that would apply to environmental restoration projects in general, and to provide specific guidance only for a limited set of widespread and important nearshore habitats and species that are the targets for much of the restoration funding. Restoration monitoring of offshore and deeper water benthic habitats was excluded because of the dearth of experience with those ecosystems, and monitoring of commercial fish stocks was excluded because of the monitoring mechanisms already in place for those resources. The committee did not take up water quality monitoring except in the context of restoration monitoring for specific habitat types.
This report captures the collective wisdom of some of the nation’s leading experts in ecological restoration theory and practice. I want to express my deep appreciation to every member of the committee for his or her attention, thoughtfulness, and hard work, as well as their wonderful collegiality.
On behalf of the entire committee, I would also like to thank our superb National Academies staff for their excellent support and many contributions to the project. Study Director Claudia Mengelt, Senior Project Officer Stephanie Johnson, Postdoctoral Fellow Heather Coleman, and Senior Program Assistant Payton Kulina were instrumental in keeping the project on course and in producing the final report. Working with this team has been a pleasure and a privilege.
Frank W. Davis, Chair
Committee on Effective Approaches for
Monitoring and Assessing Gulf of Mexico