Restoration of the Gulf of Mexico is a complex endeavor taking place over a vast spatial scale and extended timeframe, and affecting many habitats and species. So far, the committee has focused discussion on how project-level monitoring can improve restoration effectiveness. However, assessing progress toward restoration program goals may require monitoring and assessment beyond the project duration and area. To address the committee’s task to assess approaches for long-term monitoring using site-based measurements cumulatively to assess region-wide insights, and to augment best practices, this chapter discusses monitoring approaches that go beyond the temporal or spatial scale of individual projects.
Long-term restoration monitoring is an important but often ignored component of restoration programs. As discussed in previous chapters, local project monitoring rarely extends more than a few years beyond completion of construction. In contrast, ecosystem restoration at the scale of most Gulf restoration projects could require decades to develop effectively (Thom et al., 2010). Documenting and understanding long-term dynamics of restoration sites will be especially important given the possibility for powerful regional drivers of local restoration outcomes such as sea-level rise, climate change, extreme weather events, and species invasions. Moreover, individual projects can interact with and influence other projects in the same region, resulting in cumulative restoration effects that can only be understood through coordinated long-term observations (Steyer et al., 2003). Ultimately, state and federal restoration programs require information from long-term monitoring to know whether restoration investments are having a durable beneficial or negative effect on Gulf ecosystems and the services they provide to society (see also synthesis and integration in Chapter 6).
Although long-term restoration monitoring is not financially feasible or practical for every restoration site, a deliberately selected set of “sentinel sites” could provide reference site information for multiple restoration projects. These sites could be selected as dynamic “target reference sites” that have limited negative impacts from human activity (see Chapter 3) and that do not require restoration. These reference sites provide a quantitative target for each monitoring metric against which to compare restoration progress; thus when restoration site conditions reach the reference site values, the relevant objective(s) have been achieved. Despite the need for two or more target reference sites to reliably evaluate restoration outcomes (Ruiz-Jaen and Aide, 2005), a recent review of 301 restoration articles found that only 44% of the studies actually used a target reference site for comparison with a restoration site (Wortley et al., 2013). Instead, only 30% used a control site that shared the same baseline as the restoration project sites but received no restoration treatment, and 26% did not include a reference or control site (see discussion on implications for rigor of conclusions in Chapter 3). As a result, the meta-analysis by Wortley et al. (2013) could not draw strong conclusions about the effectiveness of restoration given the lack of rigorous monitoring.
Clearly, including target reference and/or control sites significantly increases the cost of project monitoring. Ideally, a network of sentinel sites could provide reference information for many projects, releasing funds for other purposes. Designing such a system would require close attention to relevant scales of variation in ecological processes. For example, each estuary has a tendency to be somewhat unique (Montagna et al., 2013). Also, seagrass beds vary systematically from the eastern to western regions of the Gulf, with those in the north-central and northwestern regions lacking abundant meadows of turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) and manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme). These seagrass species occur most often in high salinity, clear waters of the eastern and southern Gulf and uncommonly in the turbid, low salinity waters of the north-central and northwestern Gulf
(Eleuterius, 1987), and it would be beneficial for the deployment of sentinel seagrass sites to account for this variation.
Some restoration programs have embraced the concept of a system of reference sites. A good example is the Louisiana Coastwide Reference Monitoring System1 (CRMS), a comprehensive monitoring network that was specifically designed to support restoration planning and assessment. Implemented under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act, which mandated 20 years of restoration project monitoring, CRMS now involves standardized, long-term monitoring at roughly 390 locations (USGS, 2010; Hijuelo et al., 2013). Also, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partner coastal states launched a program to coordinate 28 National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) sentinel sites in 2011. For example, the Northern Gulf of Mexico Sentinel Site Cooperative maintains a set of reference sites to track and predict sea-level rise, changing salinity, effects on oyster beds and marsh productivity, and habitat suitability modeling. The NERRS uses a System Wide Monitoring Program protocol to conduct standardized, long-term monitoring on water quality, weather, habitat, species, and land-use/cover.2 Many other long-term monitoring efforts are already underway in the Gulf to provide a starting point for a network of restoration sentinel sites (Love et al., 2015; see Chapter 6).
In addition, a subset of restored and control sites could be monitored beyond the initial duration of a typical project (~3-5 years). Such long-term monitoring of restoration performance could also provide the opportunity for additional hypothesis testing in the case of unexpected outcomes. Similarly, as further discussed below, such long-term monitoring sites could become the location for ecological research that could improve the understanding of key knowledge uncertainties (see also Chapter 1). The concept of pairing long-term ecological monitoring with rigorous ecological research has been previously implemented by several programs such as the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research Network3 (the largest and oldest continuous ecological network in the US), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System,4 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program,5 and the National Park Service’s National Seashores6 and other types of properties.
Monitoring to improve the efficacy of Gulf restoration is an important component to better enable adaptive management in the region. However, the committee recognizes that active adaptive management to reduce uncertainty can be expensive and technically demanding (see Chapter 7). Adaptive management can also require long-term active management and monitoring. For restoration efforts that must confront similar, decision-critical uncertainties, a designed set of management experiments and accompanying long-term monitoring effort at a set of sites across the Gulf could offer a means to cost-effectively accelerate production of restoration knowledge for multiple projects and increase the possibility of success.
Restoration projects often aim to improve the quality of habitat for living resources. This type of monitoring effort will require performance monitoring to be designed at the scale at which a particular habitat is assumed to affect target resources. This design becomes increasingly complex when attempting to restore species with large spatial ranges such as birds, fish, sea turtles, or marine mammals. It is often not known if the aggregated outcomes of many small projects can have an effect on species at larger scales. Monitoring the benefits, potential harm, and cumulative effects from a variety of restoration projects on mobile living resources, therefore, requires special consideration. In particular, such monitoring efforts will need to consider approaches to monitor across the range of a particular species.
2 National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS): http://nerrs.noaa.gov/research, http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/sentinelsites/gulf-of-mexico.
6 A set of ten National Seashores are currently in places to preserve the national coastline while supporting water-based recreation, for example Gulf Islands and Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico.
Understanding restoration benefits for bird populations, for example, requires a dedicated monitoring program that would be long-term, standardized, well-coordinated, geographically broad, taxa-wide (i.e., many multiple bird species), and multi-indicator (according to the rationale, metrics, and methods described in Part II). Such an effort would span decades and potentially extend beyond the limits associated with the funding programs described in Chapter 2. It would be based on a conceptual ecosystem understanding (Lindenmayer and Likens, 2010) and include elements discussed in this report, such as a robust and rigorous design (see Chapter 3) and data management effort (see Chapter 5). It would focus on determining population-level impacts of bird-specific ecological processes, possibly through synthesis (see Chapter 6), and on improving common restoration/management techniques employed across the Gulf of Mexico region, possibly through adaptive management (see Chapter 7).
Because restoration aims to enhance or repair ecosystem structure and/or function, it is often assumed that habitat restoration will benefit fish and wildlife in a particular ecosystem being restored. “This assumption is rarely tested, but it should be” (Block et al., 2001). For example, habitat selection criteria for bird species can be so complex that simply restoring the habitat might not be sufficient (Ahlering and Faaborg, 2006). This assumption can also fail when restoration projects have negative impacts on non-target fish and wildlife (Wilson et al., 1999). A number of potential unintended consequences of restoration projects on birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals are illustrated in Table 4.1, and monitoring to uncover these effects as well as to consider appropriate tradeoffs and informed management decisions is described by Hutto and Belote (2013).
Although many restoration activities will not aim to restore marine mammals, they may influence ecosystem parameters or stressors that, in turn, impact these animals. Some restoration activities have the potential to benefit marine mammals through habitat and water-quality enhancements and the restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation that would replenish prey. Other activities could potentially have adverse effects, such as sediment dredging, beach nourishment, construction of coastal defense (or other) structures, and hydrologic river diversions. For example, dredging of contaminated sediments can temporarily re-suspend pollutants and nutrients into the water column, potentially exacerbating harmful algal blooms (Van Dolah, 2000; Martins et al., 2012). River diversions may benefit construction activities while potentially harming commercial oyster harvest (Caffey et al., 2014). Beach nourishment and maintenance activities can destroy feeding grounds and alter animal behavior at target and adjacent sites (Speybroeck et al., 2006; OSPAR Commission, 2009). Disturbance from construction activities nd associated vessel traffic can increase noise and mammal ship strikes, and disrupt behavior and habitat use (Nowacek et al., 2001, 2004; Wells et al., 2008; Bechdel et al., 2009). Restoration activities that reduce salinity in specific coastal areas can affect inshore dolphin skin health, electrolyte balance, stress levels, prey abundance, and/or exposure to infections and contaminants (Barros and Odell, 1990; Wilson et al., 1999; Hart et al., 2012; Meager and Limpus, 2014; Mullin et al., 2015).
Sea turtles may be adversely affected directly and or indirectly by restoration projects that take place on land and at sea (see Table 4.1). Beach armoring and nourishment projects can reduce sea turtle nesting habitat and decrease sea turtle nesting success by altering beach habitat so that it is unsuitable for adult females and their eggs (Lutcavage et al., 1996). Restoration project activities that use heavy equipment to traverse the beach may compact sand and decrease sea turtle nesting success, as well as potentially crush eggs, hatchlings, and nesting females (NMFS et al., 2011). Construction behind beach dunes may also threaten sea turtles if the activities alter dunes or erect structures with lights that can disorient nesting females and emerging hatchlings (Witherington and Bjorndal, 1991; NMFS et al., 2011). Dredging in nearshore waters where sea turtles forage and migrate is also a significant threat (NRC, 1990; Lutcavage et al., 1996). In addition to capturing and killing sea turtles, dredges can indirectly cause adverse impacts by altering important sea turtle habitat (NMFS et al., 2011). Dams and water diversions may also adversely impact sea turtles by reducing prey availability in certain locations. Some of the sea turtles that inhabit Gulf of Mexico waters are benthic feeders during their adult years (e.g., loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles). These turtles feed on crabs and other invertebrates (Shaver, 1991; Plotkin et al., 1993) whose abundance may be affected locally by changes and disruptions to freshwater inflows (NMFS et al., 2011).
The Gulf of Mexico is used by many species of migratory birds that make wide-ranging seasonal movements throughout their annual cycles, and can also be inadvertently affected by a number of restoration and/or management actions (see Table 4.1). Pending restoration
TABLE 4.1 Examples of How Various Restoration Projects Can Have Direct And Indirect Positive and/or Negative Effects on Marine Mammals, Sea Turtles, and Coastal Birds
|Restoration practice||Potential impacts on mobile species||Monitoring for adaptive management and marine mammal restoration||Monitoring for adaptive management and sea turtle restoration||Monitoring for adaptive management and coastal bird restoration|
|Use of alternative fishing gear to reduce bycatch||Reduced number of stranded, incidentally captured, and entangled animals; reduced mortality||Monitor data from targeted observer program tied to fishery; stranding network surveillance||Monitor data from targeted observer program tied to fishery; stranding network surveillance; measure sea turtle population trends on nesting beaches and in water||Monitor mortality data through targeted observer program tied to commercial fishing; determine species- and age-specific annual survivorship|
|Increase enforcement to reduce illegal killing||Reduced number of stranded animals with signs of human interaction||Number of man hours working marine mammal related enforcement; stranding network surveillance|
|Management of fisheries to ensure sustained prey base||Changes in prey quality, abundance, or distribution causing changes in species distribution, reproductive success, and survivorship||Monitor coastal dolphin health through live animal health assessments and stranding network surveillance; monitor marine mammal reproductive rates, survival, abundance and distribution using photo identification, line transects and passive acoustic monitoring||Monitor sea turtle health through live animal health assessments and stranding network surveillance; measure sea turtle population trends on nesting beaches and in water||Monitor species-specific abundance and distribution, community diversity, and demographic parameters; monitor bird population trends for 10+ years at state, regional, and/or Gulf-wide scales|
|Barrier island restoration||Increase in available bird habitat causing distribution and abundance shifts, and increased reproductive success and survivorship||Monitor species-specific abundance and distribution, community diversity, and survivorship at paired restoration and reference sites for at least 10+ years; monitor bird population trends for 10+ years at state, regional and/or Gulf-wide scales|
|Beach renourishment||Increase in available bird habitat causing distribution and abundance shifts, and increased reproductive success and survivorship||Monitor species-specific abundance and distribution, community diversity, and survivorship at paired restoration and reference sites for at least 10+ years; monitor bird population trends for 10+ years at state, regional and/or Gulf-wide scales|
|Hydrologic flow modifications||Altered estuarine salinity resulting in skin damage and impaired organ function in coastal dolphins; changes in distribution and abundance of mammals, turtles, birds, and their prey||Monitor coastal dolphin health through live animal health assessments and stranding network surveillance; monitor dolphin distribution, reproductive rate and survivorship using photo identification||Monitor sea turtle health through live animal health assessments and stranding network surveillance; measure sea turtle population trends on nesting beaches and in water||Monitor species-specific abundance and distribution, community diversity, and demographic parameters; monitor bird population trends for 10+ years at state, regional, and/or Gulf-wide scales|
|Salt marsh restoration||Changes in prey distribution and abundance||Monitor coastal dolphin health through live animal health assessments; stranding network surveillance; monitor dolphin distribution, reproductive rate and survivorship using photo identification||Monitor sea turtle health through live animal health assessments and stranding network surveillance; measure sea turtle population trends on nesting beaches and in water||Monitor species-specific abundance and distribution, community diversity, and demographic parameters of paired restoration and reference sites for at least 10+ years|
|Construction of boat ramps and structures for recreation||Increased noise during construction and use causing disturbance and masking of dolphin communication; increased human disturbance causing boat strikes and affecting migration, reproductive success, distribution and abundance, survivorship, and behavior of many species||Monitor coastal dolphin health through live animal health assessments and stranding network surveillance; monitor marine mammal reproduction, survival, abundance and distribution using photo identification, line transects and passive acoustic monitoring||Monitor species-specific abundance and distribution, community diversity, and demographic parameters at paired construction and reference sites for at least 10+ years; monitor bird population trends for 10+ years at state, regional and/or Gulf-wide scales|
|Dredging to restore coastal habitat||Disturbance of coastal dolphins and manatees; release of contaminants; enhanced harmful algal blooms; incidental capture and mortality of sea turtles; alteration of physical habitat and prey sources; interruption in sea turtle migration and nesting behavior and reduction in reproductive success; interruption in bird foraging and loafing; shift in distribution and abundance; decrease in bird survivorship||Monitor marine mammal health through live animal health assessments and stranding network surveillance||Monitor incidental sea turtle captures during dredging operations; capture and relocate sea turtles from dredging site to other areas; monitor sea turtle health through live animal health assessments and stranding network surveillance||Monitor species-specific abundance and distribution, community diversity, and survivorship at paired dredging and reference sites for at least 10+ years; monitor bird population trends for 10+ years at state, regional and/or Gulf-wide scales|
activities across the Gulf of Mexico will likely provide vital habitat for these species at some point during their movements in and around the Gulf region. Perhaps best known of the highly mobile bird taxa include shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl, all of which typically require use of multiple wetlands to satisfy different aspects of their life history (Haig et al., 1998). Movements may include “prospecting” to inspect potential breeding areas (Boulinier and Danchin, 1997), use of foraging areas away from nesting sites (Bildstein et al., 1990), post-breeding dispersal (Erwin et al., 1996), and shifts in site use during migration or the winter (Farmer and Parent, 1997).
Pelagic seabirds in the Gulf of Mexico are poorly known with little work focused on this highly mobile group (Duncan and Havard, 1980). Both biological and physical factors appear to affect Gulf-wide seabird distributions (Ribic et al., 1997), with presence in the Gulf of Mexico varying by season (Hess and Ribic, 2000). Unfortunately, there are some gaps in understanding the linkages between nesting colonies and at-sea foraging areas throughout annual cycles; nor has adequate monitoring data been collected to describe linkages and movements among colonies. This lack of information hampers our understanding of how restoration might benefit or impact these highly mobile species. Due to the lack of distribution and abundance data, their highly mobile character, and the uncertainties outlined above, we suggest broad geographic-focused seabird survey efforts integrated with surveys for marine mammals and sea turtles as an initial monitoring effort. We also stress the need for efforts focused specifically on monitoring movements of seabirds within and among colonies, as well as near and offshore movements throughout the annual cycle. As discussed later in this chapter, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and other agencies are planning a Gulf-wide monitoring effort targeting birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals.
Coastal fish species provide another example to illustrate the need to assess restoration effects on wide-ranging animals. The situation for coastal fish is generally different from marine mammals, sea turtles, and birds in that many restoration actions are targeted to specifically improve conditions for fish. Restoration of wetlands leads to increased habitat for many stages of ecologically and economically important fish species (Beck et al., 2001). Many coastal and marine fish and shellfish (e.g., penaeid shrimp) species use wetlands for part of their life cycle, but spend time in other habitats (Able, 2005), which may themselves also be the target for restoration actions or act as stressors for fish and shellfish species. In addition, fish and shellfish populations show wide annual fluctuations due to the effects of environmental and climate variation, changes in predation pressure (Houde, 2008), and for some species, changes in their management (Anderson et al., 2008).
To understand and document the effects of restoration targeted at one habitat and a subset of life stages (e.g., increased wetlands affecting juvenile fish) in contrast to the effects of other habitats and environmental variation on other life stages, monitoring needs to extend beyond the local and project levels. Similar considerations are needed for highly migratory fish species, such as tuna as well, which transverse even wider geographic areas. Understanding these linkages (or testing assumptions) between restoration actions and various life-history stages and specific life-history requirements is critical and typically relies on conceptual ecological models to design the appropriate sampling scheme, as well as on ecological or ecosystem modeling to test assumptions (see Chapter 6). Only when the full life cycle of fish and shellfish populations, the multiple habitats, and the mix of stressors and drivers (Krausman and Harris, 2011) are considered, can the effects of restoration actions be assessed at scales beyond the life stages monitored at the project-level.
The need for cross-scale synthesis of monitoring data to understand cumulative restoration effects (NRC, 2003b; Krausman and Harris, 2011) on wide-ranging animals argues for developing an integrated and coordinated approach to monitoring marine mammals, sea turtles, birds, and fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, informing cumulative effects analysis with coordinated monitoring for unintended consequences could assist federal agencies with legal challenges (Smith, 2006; Schultz, 2010; Hutto and Belote, 2013). Even then, assigning causation will be challenging in such a large and dynamic system that is affected continually by multiple stressors. Monitoring, research, and data coordination in the Gulf of Mexico will be essential, as most protected species monitoring is performed by federal agencies7 (Koontz, 2002), whereas state or county
7 For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) administer the Endangered Species Act of 1973 as well as the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (the latter with the Marine Mammal Commission). A group of federal agencies is also planning the Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (see below).
agencies or their contractors are being awarded most of the habitat restoration project funds (e.g., by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment [NRDA] Trustee Council and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation [NFWF]8). Plans are underway to develop a Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (GoMMAPPS)9 becaue of the gaps in research and monitoring data available to assess mobile living marine resource abundance, distribution, habitat use, and behavior in offshore waters (Love et al., 2015; Stelk et al., 2016). The program is modeled after the ongoing Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS)10 and will monitor effects of oil and gas activities, as well as cumulative impacts from other anthropogenic and natural stressors. Collecting broad-scale data using aerial and vessel-based surveys over multiple years on seasonal distribution and abundances of pelagic seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles to mitigate and monitor impacts of human activities, especially oil and gas related, is the primary goal of this program. GoMMAPPS also plans to collect data at finer scales at specific sites, employ tag telemetry studies, and collect related habitat characteristics to gather information on seasonal distribution, residence time, abundance, life history, behavior, and habitat use and frequency. GoMMAPPS will involve working groups for marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds, whose work is scientifically reviewed and integrated, and coordinated across partnering agencies. These efforts will operate from nearshore waters to the U.S. exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles offshore) across the Gulf, and may include Gulf-wide surveys encompassing Mexican waters as well. Ultimately, GoMMAPPS intends to develop tools and models to collaboratively produce and share spatially-explicit seasonal density estimates of protected species that incorporate habitat characteristics, which fills a substantial monitoring and assessment need for the region (R. Green, personal communication). As these efforts focus on offshore regions, a monitoring gap may exist for coastal mobile species potentially affected by state-driven restoration projects. It remains to be seen how comprehensive this monitoring effort will be, how many representative target species within each taxa will be monitored, and how many gaps will remain regarding monitoring of mobile species.
There is often a strong reluctance to fund restoration monitoring other than construction or performance monitoring (described in Chapter 3), partly because it often is assumed that it comes at the cost of doing restoration, is an ongoing/long-term activity that is not guaranteed to provide useful results (or be cost effective), and is not framed with a clear purpose and plan (Mazzotti et al., 2007; Tamarisk Coalition, 2014). However, without adequate investment in long-term restoration monitoring to inform future management actions, low levels of certainty will sustain reluctance to fund new projects (Perillo et al., 2009). The magnitude of restoration as well as the influx of research funding currently occurring and planned for the Gulf of Mexico presents a unique opportunity to ensure that the collective impact of restoration projects is maximized. For that reason, targeted research alongside monitoring efforts has the potential to greatly enhance restoration effectiveness.
As discussed extensively in Palmer (2009), application of the latest research is often lagging and conversely, restoration ecologists might not be answering the most relevant questions for which practitioners need answers. Also, a great majority of restoration-related studies do not specify policies that could be informed by results of their research, nor use terminology that is accessible to policy makers. Considering this, restoration research and restoration efficacy would both benefit from explicitly integrating research, policy, and/or public outreach (Groffman et al., 2010; Jorgensen et al., 2014; Perring et al., 2015). The extent of restoration efforts planned combined with the fact that knowledge on the efficacy of ecological is still maturing, particularly for Gulf of Mexico ecosystems, presents a unique opportunity to bring together scientists and practitioners to formulate and address applied and basic research needs (Palmer, 2009; Bjorndal et al., 2011).
8 NRDA early restoration allocation: http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/about/media/nrda-trustees-announce-1-billion-agreement-fund-early-gulf-coast-restoration-projects.ht; NFWF Gulf Response Grants: http://www.nfwf.org/gulf/Pages/projectlist.aspx.
9 Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (GoMMAPPS) will be administered by BOEM, NOAA, USGS, and USFWS.
10 The Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) is a partnership and joint research program between BOEM, NOAA, USFWS, and Navy that organizes monitoring of a variety of taxa including North Atlantic right whales, sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, and pilot whales in the southeast Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico: http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/psb/AMAPPS.
At the project-level or sub-regional (watershed/estuary) restoration scale, there are several critical information gaps affecting restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. These information gaps result in increased uncertainty as to whether restoration projects will achieve their objectives. Considering the following examples of process uncertainties will aid monitoring in its role to improve the understanding of these processes and enable programs to improve future project design and implementation (Water Institute of the Gulf, 2013; DWH NRDA Trustees, 2016):
- Restoration in the Gulf has and will occur across a grand geographic scale through individual projects, and the degree to which restoration activities affect species and habitats beyond the project footprint and the extent to which multiple nearby projects interact remain poorly understood.
- Sea-level rise, subsidence, and the periodic impact of tropical storms and hurricanes introduce considerable uncertainty in the outcome of restoration projects.
- There is an insufficient understanding of some of the target resources (e.g., deep benthic communities) that limits the development and implementation of certain restoration projects at a large scale.
- Some approaches to restoration may be untested or controversial (e.g., diversion of water and sediment to build land mass).
- Some restoration efforts depend upon voluntary participation by commercial interests (e.g., voluntary changes in fishing practices or gear to reduce bycatch), levels of participation are difficult to predict, and factors that influence behavioral changes are not well understood.
Difficulties in bridging the gap between research and its application are not unique to restoration practice and many solutions are available, such as joint meetings and conferences between practitioners and scientists, cooperative research institutes, jointly developed research agendas, dedicated boundary organizations, and/or scientific review and evaluation of restoration studies. Several programs are in place that could bridge restoration research with its application and implement some of these solutions: the Gulf Research Program at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; NOAA Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act Science Program, Centers of Excellence; and Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. These programs could work jointly with the restoration programs to identify the most pressing research questions and identify restoration projects that would not only benefit from monitoring for adaptive management but also from targeted research experiments at the restoration sites, for example, to inform some uncertainties about the conceptual models.
In particular, more rigorous and extensive monitoring becomes most crucial when a project is associated with some known risk factors such as high scientific uncertainty associated with a conceptual model, novel restoration technique, large restoration scale, extensive potential socioeconomic consequences, or long-term restoration. When projects are undertaken with some of these high-risk factors involved, monitoring for adaptive management may be needed (see Chapter 7 for further discussion). Knowledge gained from such restoration monitoring efforts could be further enhanced if research were undertaken alongside such restoration projects. Such joint efforts between restoration practitioners and scientists would not only advance restoration science, but also significantly enhance the practice of restoration by improving the knowledge base used to design restoration projects (NRC, 2003a; Brumbaugh et al., 2006; Perring et al., 2015). Considering such partnerships might also be necessary when commitments to extensive, long-term monitoring are insufficient.
The current magnitude of funds and efforts being invested in restoration in the Gulf of Mexico marks an unprecedented opportunity to solve the challenges currently faced, to improve cost effectiveness and outcomes of restoration projects, and to advance science in support of restoration. Because some projects may take decades before they become self-sustaining and fully restored, and because individual projects interact with other projects, monitoring beyond the duration and scale of individual projects will be needed to understand whether the Gulf of Mexico region’s ecosystem is recovering. Thus, the committee concludes that restoration programs (i.e., the NRDA Trustee Council, the RESTORE Council, and NFWF) and Gulf research programs (i.e., the National Academies’ Gulf Research Program, NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program, and Centers of Excellence for each Gulf state) would greatly benefit from working
together to identify strategic opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico to maximize the effectiveness and utility of monitoring while also reducing the overall cost of long-term monitoring across the Gulf region. The committee recommends that the restoration and research programs develop long-term, broad-scale restoration monitoring in the Gulf due to the large restoration scale, slow anticipated recovery time for several species, novel restoration techniques, number and diversity of restoration projects, potential and intended socioeconomic influences, and uncertainties associated with climate change and extreme weather.
The committee recommends that restoration programs jointly with research programs (i.e., the National Academies’ Gulf Research Program, NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program, and Centers of Excellence for each Gulf state) consider the following options for leveraging program funds and needs:
- Explore opportunities for a system of reference sites across the Gulf of Mexico for several types of habitats to be restored (modeled after and expanded from CRMS).
- Identify potential long-term ecological monitoring sites that could be paired with ecological research to improve the effectiveness of restoration approaches.
- Monitoring mobile species may require comparison beyond static reference sites, such as using reference populations or seasonal reference points (e.g., GoMMAPPS will conduct a temporal, species-based version of sentinel site monitoring).
- Jointly identify the most pressing research needs, objectives, and questions that would inform and improve restoration effectiveness.
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