Nature-based shoreline stabilization and restoration techniques have the potential to maintain and enhance important ecological services and coastal resilience, while at the same time being cost-competitive with traditional approaches. Since 2009, the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve has engaged in scientific research, implementation, and promotion of sustainable shorelines in the Hudson River Estuary via the Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines Project.
Around the time of passage of the 2014 New York State Community Risk and Resiliency Act, the Hudson River Reserve began receiving requests from other regions of the state about the Sustainable Shorelines Project. Eventually, an ad hoc interagency group, led by the Hudson River Reserve, formed to collaborate on implementation of sustainable shorelines state-wide. The Community Risk and Resiliency Act provided an opportunity for the Hudson River Reserve to formally share lessons learned and to work in collaboration with state agencies to advance the use of many types of nature-based approaches. The act called for the development of guidance on “the use of resiliency measures that utilize natural resources and natural processes to reduce risk” by January 2017 (the deadline has since been extended).
This project coordinated a team of staff members from New York State agencies to draft the required guidance: Using Natural Resilience Measures to Reduce Risk in New York State. The guidance examines the use of resiliency measures that emphasize the implementation of natural resources and natural processes to reduce risk. This project’s collaborative process and products were designed to support New York State agencies, shoreline managers, and other decision makers considering naturebased shoreline approaches and other natural resilience measures.
Tidal marshes provide key ecosystem services—and they are increasingly threatened by sea level rise. Narragansett Bay and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserves recently led the first national assessment of tidal marsh resilience to sea level rise by developing and applying multi-metric indices to 16 reserve sites. Now the group is moving beyond marsh resilience monitoring and assessment efforts to actively test strategies to enhance resilience.
Through this project, replicated restoration experiments are being conducted at several reserve sites across the nation, with the purpose of examining the effectiveness of thin-layer sediment placement as a marsh adaptation strategy. Novel aspects of the project include the broad distribution of sites, the examination of the effectiveness of thin-layer sediment placement at different marsh elevations, a standardized monitoring protocol, and the incorporation of biochar (carbon material produced through the conversion of biomass in an oxygen limited environment) to improve soils and plant health.
Beneficial use of dredged sediment to enhance coastal resilience is of interest to, and already being applied in, many coastal states. At project conception, the team interviewed and surveyed end users involved in funding, permitting, implementation, and monitoring of thin-layer sediment projects. This project will address the needs end users identified, including a vetted monitoring protocol to assess restoration success after thin-layer sediment placement, a synopsis of associated permitting issues, and an evaluation of effectiveness of different treatments detailed in a technical report and summarized in a brochure and webinar.
For coastal communities, such as those on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, water quality and the overall health of coastal systems has been deteriorating due to nitrogen pollution, which can come from septic systems, fertilizers, and atmospheric deposition. Excess nitrogen leads to negative ecological and economic impacts on communities and coastal areas, including algal blooms, fish kills, and shellfish and beach closures. Towns along Cape Cod are under pressure to improve coastal water quality, but many approaches are very costly, such as developing centralized sewer treatment infrastructure for homes that currently have septic systems.
A number of towns are exploring the use of various shellfish aquaculture systems to remediate water quality. This project addresses a critical information gap identified by water quality managers and regulators, specifically: how much nitrogen is removed from coastal waters by common oyster aquaculture methods, and what culturing practices should be adopted to maximize benefits for water quality?
Biological monitoring programs are essential foundations for effective management of estuaries and coasts, but they can be expensive to conduct and may be traumatic for the target species. Advancements in DNA methods now make it possible to identify the organisms in an area by the DNA they leave behind. Environmental DNA (eDNA) comes from feces, gametes, scales, and cells that an organism sheds, and is easily collected from water and sediment samples. Rapid reductions in analytical costs now allow scientists to analyze eDNA in water samples and identify dozens of species without having to capture live animals or plants.
This project will work collaboratively with resource managers in Oregon, Maine, and New Hampshire to pilot and refine DNA-based monitoring protocols that can be applied to specific issues and species of interest in estuarine ecosystems.
The Kenai Lowlands cover 9,400 square kilometers, with much of the area comprised of wetlands and over half of the landscape characterized as peatlands. These wetlands sequester large stores of carbon, preventing the carbon from entering the atmosphere. In 2016, at the request of the Kachemak Bay Community Council, a group of municipalities, government agencies, and local nonprofits, the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve partnered with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to conduct pilot tests of saltmarsh carbon sequestration. The results spurred interest in blue carbon valuation throughout the region.
This project will build on Kachemak Bay Reserve’s expertise in wetland ecosystem function and ecosystem services to map carbon stores in Kenai Peninsula wetlands, and explore opportunities for engaging local stakeholders in valuing wetlands. The reserve will benefit from the expertise of Waquoit Bay Reserve’s blue carbon stakeholder engagement process and from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s expertise in global blue carbon assessment.
In 2016, the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve hosted a workshop series to develop strategies for coping with coastal climate change on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. The workshops were the result of a Science Collaborative Science Transfer grant, as well as involvement in the Successful Adaptation Indicators and Metrics Science Collaborative project.
Through the workshops, scientists, agency resource planners and regulators, conservation non-profits, tribal members, and community leaders were brought together to share ideas about what a thriving Kachemak Bay community might look like, and to explore how climate and environmental changes may affect the future. Participants also identified strategies and actions needed for building more resilient communities, and linked these to local efforts to move adaptive planning forward in the area. Resource planners, regulators, NOAA scientists, and Kachemak Bay reserve staff identified the critical need for information on groundwater flows that could be used in decision making. As a result of these workshops, the Kachemak Bay Reserve identified classifying and mapping groundwater discharge and recharge areas as a top priority, contributing to reserve efforts to lead ecosystem service valuation and climate change adaptation efforts.
This project takes existing spatial data sets, modeling frameworks, and local expertise, and integrates them with new science aimed at developing a comprehensive conceptual model and validated geospatial layer that can be used to predict specific locations where groundwater discharge and recharge occur. Working collaboratively with key end users who participated in the climate adaptation project, and with additional end users identified through the Kachemak Bay Reserve’s Community Council, the project team will interpret the groundwater model for use in land use planning, permitting, policy decisions, and habitat protection.
Coastal managers are faced with the challenge of managing marsh hydrology in a way that meets human health needs, optimizes ecosystem services, and supports sustainability. In New England this includes accounting for the effects of ditches that were dug decades ago in 90% of the region’s salt marshes.
Ditches increase marsh drainage and reduce the spatial extent of shallow pools that may represent physical loss of buried soil carbon. However, efficient drainage may reduce the long-term sustainability of marshes by altering below ground biogeochemical and physical processes in a way that results in subsidence and lowered marsh elevation. Managers, restoration practitioners, and scientists at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project have expressed a need to understand the tradeoffs of hydrologic management strategies (i.e., ditch remediation, density, maintenance) and identify actions that will achieve user-specified outcomes— such as drainage, maintaining elevation, and carbon burial.
This project is a collaboration between scientists and end users to develop decision-support tools for marsh hydrological management strategies that promote sustainability and delivery of valuable ecosystem services under future sea level scenarios.
Maggie Allan, John Callewaert, and Kyle Olsen
University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute
Maggie Allan, John Callewaert, and Kyle Olsen
University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute
The Gulf Coast continues to lose coastal wetlands at an alarming rate. This has negative implications for water quality, shoreline stability, habitat protection, and greenhouse gas sequestration. Coastal blue carbon is a newly recognized ecosystem service provided by coastal wetlands—including seagrass beds, mangroves, and salt marshes—to capture and store carbon. When coastal wetlands are degraded or destroyed, they release these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Bolstering awareness and valuation of blue carbon could lead to increased prioritization of coastal conservation and restoration projects, and increase public and private funding for these types of projects. Moreover, coastal managers are now being asked to consider the greenhouse gas implications of their decisions, and Gulf Coast National Estuarine Research Reserves have recently identified blue carbon as a priority topic.
This project developed a Gulf Coast blue carbon network as a platform for sharing information and coordinating efforts to develop blue carbon tools and projects in the region. End users for the project included reserve staff, local government, restoration practitioners, researchers at local academic institutions, non-profits, resource managers, and others involved in habitat protection and restoration in the Gulf region. The goal was to support the development of projects that advanced local understanding of blue carbon science, and to pilot ways to leverage blue carbon’s value to fund coastal wetland restoration and conservation.