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Effective Monitoring to Evaluate Ecological Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico (2017)

Chapter: Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring

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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring

WHY RESTORE TIDAL WETLANDS?

Tidal marshes and mangroves historically covered vast areas of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico. Losses to development, sediment supply and tidal flow restrictions, sea-level rise, and more recently oil spills and hurricanes have collectively reduced habitat for wildlife and fisheries and have left coastal infrastructure and landward habitats more vulnerable to storm damage and impacts from climate change (LCWCRTF, 2006; Cretini et al., 2012; Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, 2013). Continued losses of tidal marshlands and their interactions with other Gulf Coast habitats are unraveling the remaining natural and human connections often referred to as ecosystem services. Human communities depend upon ecosystem services provided by the structure and functions of marshes and mangroves: protecting us from the flooding and erosion of storms, driving coastal food webs and fisheries, cycling nutrients, storing carbon and even maintaining themselves. Not only are healthy ecosystems more resilient to catastrophic disturbances, they allow socioeconomic systems to resist and recover more quickly from such disturbances (NRC, 2013). Large-scale restoration efforts are needed to reverse these trends, and the Gulf Coast states have a unique opportunity with funding from the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) settlement to restore significant areas of tidal marsh, improve our understanding of tidal wetland interactions, and establish protection from direct and indirect impacts so that these systems can be self-sustaining as they move inland (see Kirwan et al., 2016).

A broad definition of “wetlands” may encompass many coastal and estuarine habitats, including beaches and dunes, sand and mud flats, beds of submerged aquatic vascular and non-vascular plants, and shellfish reefs. A variety of definitions exist, depending upon context and purpose, and range from regulatory1 to pertaining to international conservation and sustainable use2 (Mitsch and Gosselink, 2007). Gulf of Mexico restoration funding agencies tend to use narrow terms to define wetland restoration. Therefore, to be consistent with Gulf terminology, in this report, “wetlands” are described as tidal marshes and mangrove swamps characterized by emergent vascular plants and strongly influenced by tidal hydrology. Included are marshes and mangroves from highly saline to fresh water systems as well as hybrid systems with artificial components such as those resulting from controlled river diversions and protected by artificial sills, as in living shorelines.

RESTORATION OBJECTIVES AND APPROACHES

Gulf states and federal agencies have developed programs to restore emergent wetlands with the general goal of creating or reestablishing functional, self-sustaining marsh or mangrove ecosystems (Steyer et al., 2003; Twilley, 2003; Byrnes and Berlinghoff, 2011).3 A critical step in establishing an effective monitoring protocol is translating restoration goal(s) into specific and measurable objectives (see Chapter 2). This section provides examples of such objectives, as well as examples of metrics that are frequently monitored to assess progress toward chosen objectives. For further guidance on moving from broad goal(s) to choosing appropriate monitoring metrics and other aspects of wetland restoration project assessment, see Roman et al. (2001), Neckles et al. (2002, 2015), and Steyer et al. (2003). For guidance on assessing a wetland restoration program, see Kentula et al. (1992).

There are a variety of potential restoration objectives for specific projects, and these objectives typically have connections to specific ecosystem services (Barbier et al., 2011). For example, emergent wetlands could be restored to provide habitat, either in general, or for specific aims like essential fish habitat to support fisheries or critical habitat to support threatened and endangered species. Restoration of emergent wetlands can also be used to provide storm and flood protection for local communities. Proposers of projects may also have narrower objectives like improved nutrient cycling, carbon storage, or reduced salt water intrusion. Examples of common restoration objectives are provided in

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1 Federal agency definitions: https://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/definitions.html, https://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Documents/classwet/wetlands.htm.

2 Ramsar Convention definition: https://www.bgci.org/resources/article/0373.

3 Resources are also provided by the EPA: http://archive.epa.gov/gulfcoasttaskforce/web/html/resources.html.

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×

Table II.2, including barrier beach marsh reconstruction for self-sustaining habitat, tidal marsh restoration to restore function and connectivity, and living shoreline restoration to prevent erosion. Table II.2 also lists a set of metrics (described below) that may help assess progress towards these objectives in many cases, depending on the relevant monitoring purpose (note that example metrics to support monitoring for adaptive management are not included because of their inherent project/program-specificity).

Tidal marshes and mangroves develop and exist within a set of conditions where plants interact with physical processes like tides, waves, and storms (Twilley, 2003). Losses of these habitats imply stressor(s), often associated with human activities, that need to be addressed and that usually influence the proposed restoration approach. As such, measuring stressors or their indicators need to be included in any monitoring plan. Restoration approaches that create functional habitat will establish emergent plants at appropriate elevations with regular tides that supply sediments, while limiting physical exposure. Note that some emergent wetland restoration projects will be designed to include adjacent, auxiliary habitats to protect the marsh edge from the erosional forces of waves. For example, a marsh or mangrove might be established landward of a restored barrier beach or a wetland may be armored along exposed edges by living oyster reef or artificial substrate (e.g., concrete, riprap; NOAA, 2015b; Sutton-Grier et al., 2015). Restoring tidal exchange to affected wetlands is another common restoration approach (Craig et al., 2010), as maintaining tidal flow is critical for maintaining marsh and mangrove habitat (Turner and Lewis, 1997; Roman and Burdick, 2012). As we learn more about emergent wetlands, new approaches may be developed and some may include novel ecosystems (as described by Morse et al., 2014).

DECISION-CRITICAL UNCERTAINTIES

Losses of tidal marshes and mangroves along the Gulf Coast have provided many opportunities for large-scale restoration, however considerable uncertainties can hinder restoration activities. Common approaches to restoration include sediment deposition on subsiding marshes, reestablishment of tidal hydrology, re-creation of barrier islands with back barrier emergent wetlands, and re-building of emergent habitats in combination with grey/green structures that act as wave barriers and collect sediments (Turner and Streever, 2002; LCWCRTF, 2006; Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, 2013). Restoration relies, to some extent, on knowledge of biophysical processes that support and sustain marshes over the long term (Twilley, 2003). A simple conceptual model shows a typical salt marsh in cross-section with physical drivers (in white boxes) interacting with biophysical attributes of the habitat (gray boxes) to result in changes in the surface elevation of the marsh (Figure II.2). In former wetlands where subsidence exceeded the marsh’s ability to build (perhaps through mineral withdrawal or tidal restriction), restoration approaches and actions could be based on our understanding illustrated by this conceptual model.

A critical uncertainty for managers conserving and protecting wetlands is predicting the rate of sea-level rise at which significant portions of marsh will be unable to build as quickly and will convert to open water or tidal flats (Kirwan et al., 2010, 2016; Fagherazzi, 2013). Restoration, however, involves many more critical uncertainties because we know much more about natural than restored marshes. For example, in a barrier beach reconstruction project where a marsh is planned along the landward shore, critical questions include the following: What is the best grain size to use for a particular site? When will the fill become stable enough to plant? What is the optimal elevation of fill to create a self-sustaining marsh? A range of elevations and sediment fill textures may be planned to determine the most efficient combination of fill materials and elevations for a created marsh in a particular place or subject to a particular set of circumstances. This could be accomplished through a formal experimentation or simply by including variability in the design with respect to these variables. Another set of questions can help us understand the development of natural soil processes and the ability of a created marsh to grow and maintain elevation. By measuring soil conditions and elevation over time, we can answer when (and if) a created marsh begins to resemble reference marsh, and perhaps when it might be lost to sea-level rise (Cahoon et al., 2009). Monitoring for adaptive management needs to be included in the monitoring plan when these questions are critical to restoring marsh function.

Note that the conceptual model (Figure II.2) may be more appropriate for marshes where mineral sediments are brought in daily by flood tides (mainly salt marshes), and less so for the large areas of brackish (mesohaline to oligohaline) marshes that comprise much of the

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×
Image
FIGURE II.2 Conceptual model of a tidal marsh in salt marshes with substantial tidal inputs of mineral sediment as influenced by environmental drivers and factors affecting accretion processes. SOURCE: Cahoon et al., 2009.

Mississippi Delta where organic accumulation predominates (Kearney and Turner, 2015). Restoration efforts in less saline marshes or mangroves need to consider other models or modifications to the conceptual model example. For example, river diversions to supply wetlands with sediments may be better modeled with a strong seasonal component.

PROJECT-LEVEL MONITORING AND ASSESSMENT PLAN CONSIDERATIONS

Information Needs Based on Monitoring Purpose and Project Objectives

As defined in Part I of this report, the three primary purposes of restoration monitoring include (1) assuring projects are built and are initially functioning as designed (construction monitoring); (2) assessing whether restoration goals and objectives have been or are being met (performance monitoring); and (3) informing restoration management, improving design of future restoration efforts, and increasing ecosystem understanding to improve restoration decision making (monitoring for adaptive management). The types of monitoring activities to assess restored marshes and mangroves will vary depending on restoration objectives, restoration approaches and stressors, construction requirements, uncertainties in the conceptual model used, desired learning objectives, and requirements established by specific funding agencies. The following sections provide detail and explanation for each monitoring purpose.

Construction Monitoring

All habitat restoration projects entail some manipulation, typically to establish the habitat structure and biophysical processes necessary for development or enhancement of a self-maintaining habitat. Wetland construction monitoring assesses the manipulation(s) to determine whether contractors followed the design or plan. Types of information that are generally needed to assess construction monitoring include the restoration site location, areal extent, position of all the habitat components and structures developed for the

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×

project (including topographic heterogeneity), and materials (e.g., grain size, plant species) used. A contour plot of the site (especially if sediment is moved), tidal regime (if hydrology is altered), planting density and survival (if the site is planted), and cover of desirable plants (and undesirable plants for invasive plant removal projects) are all important to documenting restoration activity. It is good practice to assess these types of information by monitoring an applicable set of metrics (examples provided in Table II.2).

Performance Monitoring

Performance monitoring is conducted to determine if a wetland restoration project is progressing toward specific objectives. Project objectives may range from re-establishing vegetation at a site, to developing a self-sustaining wetland that is resilient to specific storm intensities or sea level rise benchmarks, or providing ecosystem services such as coastal protection. Some objectives are not likely to be met immediately, but progress is expected as the marsh develops over many years (e.g., carbon storage). Performance monitoring typically includes assessment of plants, soil development and elevation, and perhaps faunal presence or support over appropriate spatial and temporal scales. For emergent wetlands, a restoration performance index can be used to integrate a number of structural and functional measurements into one assessment score that is comparable across projects (Chmura et al., 2012; Staszak and Armitage, 2013; Raposa, in review). Since objectives are often tied to some standard of marsh structure or function, establishing monitoring stations at one or more reference wetland(s) aid evaluation of progress toward objectives.

Monitoring for Adaptive Management

For projects with uncertainties that might reduce performance or lead to failure, monitoring for adaptive management is appropriate. Monitoring activities can be designed to test the generality of a conceptual model for a project site or specific model component. For example, hydrologic models do not predict salinity well, so changes in salinity of the water column or porewater following hydrologic restoration can be a fruitful metric for adaptive management. Stressors that led to the initial wetland loss need to be assessed directly or by a proxy indicator. Sometimes restoration activities can change physical or biological processes at a site with unexpected results (Zedler, 2005). Other times specific project objectives may inexplicably not be met. Monitoring can help document and understand the causes of such phenomena so that we can learn more about these ecosystems and how activities might affect them. For example, if plants at lower elevations die despite a marsh being built and planted according to a recommended standard, then an assumption (e.g., plants at the low edge of a mature marsh would also be able to thrive in the restored marsh) must be wrong. It would be important to understand the probable reason(s) for such an unexpected result if we allow modification of the plan to accomplish the project objectives, or if funding agencies were to support similarly designed projects in the future. For these reasons, some monitoring may not directly support assessment of a project in meeting its objectives, but inform the restoration team of potential reasons for failures (e.g., incorrect assumptions or conceptual models). A judicious set of auxiliary measures (determined by stressors specific to the site or weakness in the restoration design) is considered good practice to support adaptive management.

Other Monitoring

Finally, there may be occasions where a funder’s requirements for monitoring are not fulfilled by monitoring the project-level metrics chosen by the project team to address project objectives and uncertainties. Because each agency or consortium has its own programmatic goals and is accountable for funds spent on restoration projects (see Chapter 2), several types of information will need to be collected for each project. Some of the requirements will be straightforward and already available, like project location, area restored, and approach used. However, others may require in-depth monitoring at specified spatial and temporal scales. For example, a funding agency may require an estimate of carbon storage for a restored marsh, which may necessitate an additional monitoring effort or only require an additional sampling step (e.g., adding bulk density to a soil sampling protocol that examines organic matter). Data developed from funder-required monitoring may also be used in conjunction with other data gathering efforts (e.g., highly mobile large vertebrates) to determine large-scale changes for Gulf-wide assessments of restoration benefits.

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×

Choose Suitable Metrics

The metrics chosen for each restoration project, and at a larger scale for groups of projects, depend upon the objectives, financial resources, monitoring plan, and the team (see Chapter 3). Choices among specific monitoring metrics might depend on whether the team plans to use remote sensing tools, volunteers to collect data, an on-site monitor, or a team of seasoned professionals that only spends a few days at the site every year. Three examples of different restoration approaches follow with varying objectives, and a variety of metrics are suggested for each project and purpose for monitoring in the table that follows (Table II.2).

Example 1

Under the general goal of creating or reestablishing functional, self-sustaining ecosystems, a common wetland restoration scenario involves barrier beach reconstruction where a marsh (for example, 50 m wide by 1,000 m long) is planned along the landward shore. Specific, measurable objectives for the marsh component of the project could be (a) to create an emergent marsh (Figure II.2) that (b) provides habitat for birds, fish, and wildlife, and (c) is self-sustaining (over the next 25 years).

Once the fill is stabilized at elevations appropriate to support a functional marsh (and remain within the acceptable limits of the construction design), it can be planted with elevation-appropriate species from the reach of the highest tides (high marsh) to the lower edge of the low marsh (typically planted with Spartina alterniflora [oystergrass or smooth cordgrass]). Assuming there are no other restoration actions planned (see Table 4.1), natural processes needed to develop and sustain the habitat are allowed to proceed. Suggested monitoring activities for objectives are listed as #1 in Table II.2.

Construction Monitoring Good practice is to include enough information to assure project directors that construction was implemented as planned, and will support development of the ecosystem and project objectives (Palmer and Allan, 2006). Metrics that are needed to address this objective include (1) the location and dimensions of the future marsh, (2) the elevations, once stabilized, that are appropriate, and (3) sediment texture. Once planted, the species, planting unit quality (e.g., size, shoot number, overall health), and density need to be assessed. In addition, post-construction monitoring (e.g., subsidence, plant survival at the end of the first growing season) may need to be performed at certain times to assess whether specified standards supplied in the restoration plan are met.

Performance Monitoring The second type of monitoring described here focuses on meeting project objectives. For our case this entails plant and soil development for Objective A, so some measure of plant cover is needed. In addition, biomass just past the peak of the growing season can be measured to indicate production (Morris, 2007). Soil development might include percent organic matter and redox potential to determine whether the soil is reduced enough to begin to accumulate carbon. By adding bulk density to the soil collection protocol, we can calculate carbon storage (as a co-benefit, or perhaps information that is requested by project funders).

Objective B, to provide habitat, can be assessed through structural (are fish species and abundances similar to those found in the reference marsh?) and functional measures (do fish stomachs fill as fast in restored compared with reference marshes?). For this particular example, monitoring is limited to habitat for fish and birds in general, but if specific species are included in the project objective(s) (e.g., enhancing habitat for a threatened bird species), it is good practice to develop monitoring protocols for that species.

To address Objective C, creating a self-maintaining marsh, we need to know the marsh elevation and how fast it is building in elevation (Cahoon and Guntenspergen, 2010). Assuming local sea-level rise is 1 cm/yr (i.e., in the Mississippi Delta region) and the marsh is building more slowly, how long will it take for the marsh to become so low in elevation that it ceases to exist? Over the short term (3-5 years), measures of marsh growth can be made using surface elevation tables (keeping in mind their limitations; see Stevenson and Kearney, 2009) and marker horizon stations, and compared to nearby sea-level gauges installed for the purpose of post-restoration monitoring (Folse et al., 2014; Cahoon, 2015). Over the longer term or at rapidly accreting sites, standard or more technologically advanced survey methods (e.g., Lidar or real-time GPS-based digital elevation models) could be used to show changes in features and the elevation growth of restored marshes (Roegner et al., 2009; Currin et al., 2015).

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×

Monitoring for Adaptive Management Restoration efforts that are monitored to promote learning and reduce uncertainty in a guiding conceptual model will often help explain unanticipated failure at a site and may reveal adaptive approaches to correct the problem(s) or improve understanding of how salt marshes function. For example, our conceptual model that directs data collection to support Objective C may not work well in created back-barrier marshes, and collection of these data at this site (and perhaps other similar sites) will help identify limitations and improve the model for these types of projects. For our specific project, problems with plant survival may be caused by undesirable conditions or stressors than can be identified by high or low elevations and other soil measures (e.g., sulfides, pH). Another approach that can provide valuable data on specific flooding regimes is recording water level at both restoration and reference sites. Some monitoring may be instituted following clues pointing to herbivory, bioturbation, physical exposure, etc. to assess whether marsh plants are likely to persist.

Example 2

Another common wetland restoration scenario involves hydrologic restoration where a marsh has been cut off from regular, unrestricted tidal inundation. Typically, the entire unit of marsh is restored if no human infrastructure is vulnerable to flooding, which is accomplished through culvert or bridge expansion or partial berm removal. Objectives for the marsh component of this type of project could be (a) to restore tidal flushing and native vegetation to an emergent marsh that (b) increases habitat connectivity for fish in support of fisheries, and (c) stores carbon in soils for marsh sustainability and climate mitigation.

Once tidal flooding is re-established by restoration actions, measurements need to be taken to assure the correct tidal regime and level of flooding (relative to the marsh surface) is appropriate to support desirable marsh vegetation and access for fish, crabs, and shrimp throughout the tidal range. Assuming no other restoration actions are planned in this scenario, natural processes needed to develop and sustain the habitat are allowed to proceed. Suggested monitoring activities for construction and performance objectives are listed as #2A, 2B, and 2C in Table II.2.

Example 3

The final example considers a section of shoreline, once healthy marshland, that has suffered significant erosion and submergence due to increased wave energy associated with boat traffic and local subsidence. The goal for such a project could be to preserve remaining marsh and restore some of the lost wetland through construction of a low sill to armor 2,200 feet of shoreline. This action is associated with adding mixed sediment (i.e., dredge spoil) behind the sill and as thin layer deposition on marsh areas that are too low in elevation, followed by planting. Objectives for the marsh component of the project could be (a) to stop shoreline erosion and protect emergent marsh that (b) will develop into healthy wetland as a mix of mangroves and grasses, and (c) provide habitat for wading birds and recreational opportunities for birdwatching.

As the project includes an objective for birdwatching, and there are currently no access points or walking areas for birders to experience the restored marsh, the project includes construction of a boardwalk and birdwatching platform. Construction monitoring may focus on the establishment of these structures, sill placement, sill integrity, and other construction as well as sediment placement and depths, and planting units (e.g., grasses and mangroves). An opportunity presented for learning is to determine whether any erosion or change in grain size seaward of the sill might be associated with wave reflection. Other suggested monitoring activities for construction and performance purposes are listed as #3A, 3B and 3C in Table II.2.

Monitoring Planning Considerations

Appropriate Baseline Data

Several types of pre-restoration data need to be collected to improve planning for restoration. It is good practice to determine the elevation range and hydrologic regime of similar wetlands to the one(s) proposed as reference sites at several locations for all types of projects. Other baseline data can be collected to define the structure and function of the system prior to restoration so the initial conditions can be determined and net benefits can be estimated (e.g., a hydrogeomorphic approach to estimate the net value of different restoration options as mitigation for a development project; see Chmura et al., 2012). In addition, it is good practice to collect pre-restoration data at project and reference sites in support of specific objectives for at least 1 year.

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×

Such data are needed for before-after-control-impact assessment designs (see Chapter 3). Specific metrics for data collection will largely depend upon the restoration approach, objectives, site conditions, processes, and stressors. For our Example 1, sediment samples of grain size, either within marsh peat or in adjacent areas lacking vegetation, might provide insight regarding appropriate grain sizes for the root zone of the restored marsh. Similarly, evidence of erosion at seaward marsh edges might alert observers to consider an erosion resistant design, so data on marsh edge erosion collected before project construction can be informative. Bird and birder visitation rate data at the site before restoration would also be valuable to support assessment of Example Objective 3C.

Appropriate Control/Reference Sites

It is good practice to select one or more reference site(s) (see Chapter 3). Reference site(s) will provide appropriate elevations or flooding regimes for comparison with the planned restoration, as well as targets for plant density, soil development, marsh elevation growth, support of fish and wildlife, etc. (Steyer et al., 2006). It is often difficult to find a “perfect” reference site, so the use of two or more, especially for larger projects where marsh restoration may encompass several sites, is recommended. Furthermore, multiple reference sites provide information on natural variability among sites and can aid in decision making for adaptive management (Short et al., 2000; Steyer et al., 2006).

Develop a Rigorous and Robust Sampling Design

Where and when to sample is a much-debated topic, with good discussions provided for grasslands, marshes, and mangroves (Elzinga et al., 1998; Roman et al., 2001; Thayer et al., 2005; Neckles et al., 2013). Construction monitoring has to be spatially comprehensive and provide estimates with narrow error to ensure adequate return on investment despite natural variability. Therefore, sampling protocols usually favor metrics are that are simple, quick to obtain, and unrelated to longer-term performance monitoring or monitoring for adaptive management.

Sampling for performance monitoring and monitoring for adaptive management may be needed before or after restoration construction for several years (perhaps up to 20 years for some metrics); typically sampling periods are chosen to coincide with the growing season or other biological cycles or seasonal patterns that might be important. Since much of performance monitoring involves establishing progress as the restored marsh approaches its reference with respect to specific objectives, a sampling design to examine trends (e.g., trajectories) is often chosen (Steyer et al., 2003). Permanent plot locations for plants and soils allow greater power per sample (see Chapter 3). A method that has been found to be applicable to a variety of restoration approaches considers a combination of metrics to assess: (1) the driving forces in the conceptual model used for a back-barrier salt marsh project (Example 1, Figure II.2: hydrology relative to elevation); (2) stressors (e.g., oil or sulfides); and (3) functional values, such as fish and wildlife use (Neckles et al., 2002; Steyer et al., 2003; Raposa et al., in review).

Transects perpendicular to the shore or elevation gradient that are established along the lower edge of the marsh (or along tidal creeks) are widely used to characterize each area or type of marsh to be sampled (Roman et al., 2001; Moore, 2013). Permanent markers are often installed at the ends of transects with random starting points and sample plots far enough apart to minimize autocorrelation (Elzinga et al., 1998; Roman et al., 2001). For relatively large projects along the Gulf coast, greater spacing may be desired. Based on vegetation patterns in New England marshes, 20 quadrats (1 m2) will show how well vegetation development is progressing (Roman et al., 2001). Soil and porewater samples could also be collected a set distance from each vegetation plot (Neckles et al., 2002; Moore, 2013). Hydrology relative to elevation can be sampled as part of a robust sampling design using water level recorders tied into spot elevations (vegetation plots) or a digital elevation model (Moore, 2013; Neckles et al., 2013) or an array of surface elevation tables with marker horizons that will measure elevation change and surface accretion (Ford et al., 1999; Cahoon, 2015). However, the surface elevation table stations are relatively costly to establish and monitor, so resources may limit the number used.

Fish, birds, and other wildlife are characterized as highly mobile, unevenly distributed, and highly variable in diel, seasonal, and annual cycles. Therefore, this group is not only difficult, but often relatively expensive to measure at a scale and frequency that can provide meaningful results. Wildlife can be measured in a variety of ways, but species data are usually not coupled to the vegetation and soil plots (unless an assessment of common invertebrates that can be done visually is needed).

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×

Fish have been sampled using area-dependent gear in surface water features at low tides (Raposa, 2008; Neckles et al., 2013), on the marsh surface at high tide (Dionne et al., 1999), and along marsh edges (Rozas and Minello, 1997). Birds may be assessed from the air, through banding, using on the ground point counts, or specific repeatable vantage points and areas (Shriver and Greenberg, 2012). Birder visitation rates can be determined through point counts (as with birds, but counting people), by establishing a birder registration station, or by requiring permits for birder access. The importance factor for site-specific results is consistency and repeatability (with many repetitions over time), but for basin-wide and regional evaluation of restoration actions, it is good practice to agree upon a standard protocol that would work for most applications across funding agencies and states.

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×

Table II.2 Metrics Considered Good Practice to Monitor Tidal Wetland Restoration Activities for Construction, Performance Toward Project Objectives, and Program-Level or Large-Scale Assessments.

Monitoring Purpose
Construction Performance Program-level
Potential Monitoring Metrics Examples Examples Suggested
Habitat

Areal dimensions of restoration

#1, #3 #1A, #3A X

Area of habitat types

#1, #3 #1A&B, #2B, #3A X

Interspersion of habitat types (e.g., creeks)

#1, #2 #1B, #2B

Location and timing of interacting management activities

X
Geomorphology/Hydrology

Basemap with site location

#1, #2, #3 #1, #2, #3 X

Surface contours (digital elevation model)

#1, #2, #3 #1A,C, #2A, #3A

Tides, currents

#2 #2A,B

Flooding depth, duration, frequency

#2A, B

Wave exposure/attenuation

#3 #3A

Water quality: salinity, pH, DO, other

Soils/Sediments

Depth to water table

Accretion/erosion/elevation change

#1C, #3A

Porewater salinity

#2A

Porewater sulfides, redox, pH

Porewater metals concentration

#3

Bulk density, organic matter (carbon storage)

#1C, #2C X

Sediment texture

#3 #3A

Sediment nutrients, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus

#2C alternative

Sediment metals

Sediment organic pollutants

Sediment organic pollutants

Vegetation

Plant density/survival

1, #3

Distribution/abundance of native/invasive plants

#1A, #2A, #3B

Primary production, above- to belowground biomass ratio

Stem density/height

Stem growth (mangroves)

#3B
Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×
Monitoring Purpose
Construction Performance Program-level
Potential Monitoring Metrics Examples Examples Suggested
Fauna

Benthic species abundance/biomass/diversity

Fish abundance/density/diversity

#1B, #2B

Fish passage

#2B

Fish length, biomass

#2B

Bird abundance/density/diversity

#1B, #3C

Mosquito abundance

Ecosystem Services
Provisioning

Hunting (waterfowl, fur bearers)

#1B

Total fishery landings/value

X

Landings/value in fishing grounds with known population connection to project site (seasonal)

#2B X

Market price of relevant fish species

X
Regulating

Rate of carbon sequestered

#2C X

Wave attenuation, erosion protection

#3A

Monetary value of adjacent property damage from moderate storm events

#3A X
Supporting

Flood storage

#2A

Nutrient Cycling

#1C, #3B

Flabitat/refugia for biodiversity

#1B, #2A&B, #3C X

Support of coastal food web

#1A&B, #2B, #3B&C

Local or regional commercial fish larval dispersal patterns

#2B

Adult recruitment to fishing grounds attributable to project site

#1A,#2B
Cultural

Travel costand visitations

#1B, #3C X

Recreational fishery permits sold (total or within grounds with known population connection to project site)

#1B, #2B

Birder benefits (travel cost, species preferences, satisfaction, visitation)

#1B, #3C

blunter visitation rate to project site

#1B

Fees from hunter permits sold for access to project site marsh (seasonal)

#1B

NOTES: Examples are provided to illustrate linkages between restoration situations/objectives and appropriate metrics to assess progress. Example 1 (linkages shown in the table by "#1A, 1B, and 1C") is to reconstruct a barrier beach marsh;

Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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.
×

Example 2 is to restore a tidal marsh; and Example 3 is to restore a living shoreline and thin layer deposition marsh/mangrove. The “X” symbol indicates metrics that are suggested by the committee as appropriate to sample across multiple projects at a program, region, or Gulf-wide scale.
SOURCES: Folk, 1974; Rozas and Minello, 1997, 2007; Dionne et al., 1999; Roman et al., 2001; Neckles et al., 2002, 2013, 2015; Craft and Sacco, 2003; Steyer et al., 2003; Morgan et al., 2009, 2015; Eberhardt and Burdick, 2011; Piehler and Smyth, 2011; Kauffman and Donnato, 2012; Shriver and Greenburg, 2012; Moore, 2013; Mora and Burdick, 2013; Staszak and Armitage, 2013; Kreeger and Moody, 2014; Howard et al., 2014; Lynch et al., 2015.

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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Suggested Citation:"Tidal Wetland Restoration Monitoring." 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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Gulf Coast communities and natural resources suffered extensive direct and indirect damage as a result of the largest accidental oil spill in US history, referred to as the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. Notably, natural resources affected by this major spill include wetlands, coastal beaches and barrier islands, coastal and marine wildlife, seagrass beds, oyster reefs, commercial fisheries, deep benthos, and coral reefs, among other habitats and species. Losses include an estimated 20% reduction in commercial fishery landings across the Gulf of Mexico and damage to as much as 1,100 linear miles of coastal salt marsh wetlands.

This historic spill is being followed by a restoration effort unparalleled in complexity and magnitude in U.S. history. Legal settlements in the wake of DWH led to the establishment of a set of programs tasked with administering and supporting DWH-related restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. In order to ensure that restoration goals are met and money is well spent, restoration monitoring and evaluation should be an integral part of those programs. However, evaluations of past restoration efforts have shown that monitoring is often inadequate or even absent.

Effective Monitoring to Evaluate Ecological Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico identifies best practices for monitoring and evaluating restoration activities to improve the performance of restoration programs and increase the effectiveness and longevity of restoration projects. This report provides general guidance for restoration monitoring, assessment, and synthesis that can be applied to most ecological restoration supported by these major programs given their similarities in restoration goals. It also offers specific guidance for a subset of habitats and taxa to be restored in the Gulf including oyster reefs, tidal wetlands, and seagrass habitats, as well as a variety of birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals.

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