Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations
Coastal environments and ecosystems (from estuaries and shorelines to the edge of the continental shelf) are increasingly likely to be modified by changes in the delivery of materials from diffuse sources via rivers and the atmosphere, widespread habitat modification resulting from human activities, and the overexploitation of living and nonliving resources. These problems pose a different set of challenges to environmental policy, management, and science than traditional concerns of point source discharge, coastal land use, and spills of hazardous materials. As a result, concern is shifting from problems amenable to single-factor risk assessment paradigms to multiple-factor risk assessment and regulatory strategies that take into account indirect, cascading, and scale-related effects that require an ecosystem perspective (e.g., eutrophication, hydrologic and hydrodynamic modifications, resource sustainability, loss of biodiversity).
Science priorities that are needed to understand the consequences of broad-scale ecosystem modifications can be cast within the strategic framework being used by the Water Resources and Coastal and Marine Environments Research Subcommittee of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Research: Integrated Monitoring, Water Availability and Flow, Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystem Functions, Ecological Restoration and Rehabilitation, and Predictive Systems Management. In the view of the committee, particularly high priorities for coastal science are:
the development of indicators of biological status and processes, reflecting ecosystem health and integrity;
the use of advanced in situ observation systems coupled with the applica-
tion of remote sensing to provide insight on ecosystem behavior on appropriate time and space scales;
investigations of the effects of modifications of land use and water flow and associated material fluxes and transformations on watershed and coastal regional scales;
research on the relationship of physical phenomena to ecosystem structure and function and the interaction of ecosystem structure and function;
research, modeling, and monitoring to support effective restoration or rehabilitation of degraded habitats and sustained yield of coastal ecosystems; and
development of models and the understanding behind them, of atmosphere-watershed-coastal ecosystem interactions for use in ecosystem management.
These priorities are generally consistent with those identified by the freshwater scientific community, with previous national assessments for coastal environments (NRC, 1990a, 1993a), and with recent research plans developed for nine coastal regions of the United States.
The application of ecosystem management in place of uniform regulatory control on a medium-specific basis requires regional as well as national strategies for science planning and implementation. Federal science agencies can help implement ecosystem management by working with various bodies engaged in research and management, including Regional Marine Research Program boards; National Estuary Program components; and Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Gulf of Mexico programs. The goal should be to optimize the contribution of national programs to ecosystem management and to foster geographically targeted, strategic research that is intense enough to address ecosystem-level questions but avoids narrow prescriptions, to allow scientific creativity and program evaluation in response to new knowledge.
The United States should show more international leadership by extending its scientific expertise in coastal science to assist other nations and address what are truly global environmental problems facing coastal ecosystems. The federal agencies should embrace this as a goal complementary to domestic goals and should support the involvement of U.S. scientists in the Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone program, the Assessment and Prediction of the Health of the Ocean and Monitoring of the Coastal Zone Environment and Its Changes modules of the Global Ocean Observing System (NRC, 1994d), and other productive bilateral and multinational ventures.
The development by the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Research (CENR) of a national science strategy that for the first time, comprehensively considers freshwater and coastal marine environments of the nation could catalyze the scientific synthesis needed to protect and restore our aquatic ecosystems. It is important that the further development and implementation of
this strategy continue to involve input and review by the scientific, policy, and management communities. However, CENR should also seek to integrate and coordinate scientific activities in the coastal ocean and Great Lakes that are related to global climate change, resource use, biodiversity, natural disasters, public health, and national security with those contributing and maintaining ecosystem integrity and advancing fundamental science.