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In recent years, the scientific community has become increasingly aware of the need to address a gap between scientific research and policy and management decisions. Collaborative research, which integrates scientists and decision makers into the research process and fosters two-way communication and learning, presents an alternative to traditional research that can help bridge this gap.
In November of 2017, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative team organized a workshop for their research and integrated assessment grant recipients. Participants included 37 people that lead or co-lead 20 projects funded by the Science Collaborative in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Workshop discussions were facilitated by Dr. Julia Wondolleck, an associate professor of environmental policy and planning at the University of Michigan and a member of the Science Collaborative team.
We have captured the collective findings and advice of workshop participants in this guidance document in hopes that it can serve as a resource for those interested in developing end user-driven collaborative research projects, both in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System and beyond.
From 2015 to 2017, Georgetown County, South Carolina, experienced threats to life, ecosystems, infrastructure, housing, schools, and businesses due to a thousand-year rainfall event, Hurricane Matthew, and repeated flooding episodes. The increased frequency and severity of these rainfall events mirrors climate scientists’ projections for the region as climate change intensifies. Like many small counties in the United States, Georgetown County is challenged by financial limitations and burgeoning infrastructure needs, creating a difficult decision-making environment for considering climate adaptation and mitigation planning.
This project will develop and implement a novel approach to climate adaptation planning, first conducted in New England from 2013 to 2014. Georgetown County will use role-play case studies developed using local climate information and sociopolitical context to engage local citizens and community leaders in exploring climate change impacts and potential decisions in their local context. The goal of the simulations is collective community learning and engagement with the potential for policy and planning recommendations to emerge.
The University of Michigan Water Center and partners are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to implement the NERRS Science Collaborative, by coordinating regular funding opportunities and supporting user-driven collaborative research, assessment and transfer activities that address critical coastal management needs identified by reserves.
The return of large harmful algal blooms to Lake Erie, as well as low oxygen levels (hypoxia) in lake bottom waters, have led to an intensified effort to understand, predict, and reduce nutrient loading to the lake. Coastal wetland restoration has been identified as a management tool for achieving an international goal of 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading to Lake Erie. For example, wetland restoration is central to nutrient reduction plans for Sandusky Bay, Ohio. However, the capacity of different coastal wetlands to retain nutrients and improve water quality is not well understood.
This project will address key information gaps identified by land managers, regulators, and conservation groups involved in coastal wetland restoration and management efforts around Lake Erie. Specifically, these groups require more precise estimates of nutrient retention in wetlands in order to inform decisions around wetland management, hydrologic reconnection of diked wetlands, and the potential creation of coastal wetlands to manage nutrient run-off. The ability to quantify and communicate the role of wetlands in nutrient management is critical for the development of achievable plans for meeting agreed upon water quality targets for Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay.
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.