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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.
Human activities create threats that have consequences for freshwater ecosystems and, in most watersheds, observed ecological responses are the result of complex interactions among multiple threats and their associated ecological alterations. Here we discuss the value of considering multiple threats in research and management, offer suggestions for filling knowledge gaps, and provide guidance for addressing the urgent management challenges posed by multiple threats in freshwater ecosystems.
Authors: Laura Craig, Julian Olden, Angela Arthington, Sally Entrekin, Charles Hawkins, John Kelly, Theodore Kennedy, Bryan Maitland, Emma Rosi, Allison Roy, David Strayer, Jennifer Tank, Amie West and Matthew Wooten
National Estuarine Research Reserves have been designing and implementing a new approach to collaborative science since 2009. This approach emphasizes the integration of scientific knowledge with local management and place-based knowledge. Collaborative processes facilitate the co-creation of knowledge to integrate diverse perspectives, identify common interests, and use resources effectively so that scientific findings are management ready, and can be applied to address the most pressing coastal management issues.
Conflict is a natural component of these complex projects, with people interacting in new ways over issues for which the science can be uncertain and stakeholder values may differ. This project brings together the shared experiences of reserves in managing conflict during collaborative research projects. The project aims to synthesize lessons learned about managing conflict in collaborative science to create a curriculum, resources, and peer-to-peer training to share this knowledge and best practices. The project outcomes will increase understanding and awareness about the kinds of conflict that arise during collaborative science projects, the causes and consequences of conflict, and the timing or phases of a project when conflict is most likely.
Using the resources generated by this project, reserve staff, state agency partners, and external partners who engage in collaborative science with the National Estuarine Research Reserve System will develop skills to manage conflict and improve the outcomes of collaborative science projects.
There is growing evidence that the New England coast faces mounting challenges due to sea level rise. One of the ways sea level rise threatens the coast is through degradation and loss of salt marshes. Salt marshes play an important role for society in maintaining healthy fisheries, mitigating shoreline erosion, reducing flooding, and protecting water quality. Research has identified southern New England salt marshes as among the most vulnerable in the country, prompting researchers and practitioners to evaluate mechanisms of resilience and opportunities for conservation and management of these important ecosystems.
To build capacity for addressing salt marsh resilience, the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, in collaboration with the three other New England reserves, will host a regional workshop for researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers to discuss the growing body of literature on salt marshes and sea level rise. The workshop will also address the steps that can be taken to minimize loss while adapting to unavoidable change. The one-day event, held in conjunction with the New England Estuarine Research Society’s 2018 spring meeting, will provide a timely forum for information sharing, collaboration building, and the coordination of efforts. The workshop will be an important touch-point for attendees as they consider the challenges and solutions for salt marsh resilience in the face of sea level rise.
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.
This project develops educational materials and tools to educate the general public and decision-makers about the ways engineered land-use changes affect water quality, fisheries, and human health in the region around Grand Bay, Mississippi. Research from a previous Science Collaborative research project, Legacy Effects of Land-Use Change and Nitrogen Source Shifts on a Benchmark System, will inform the educational materials produced. Researchers reviewed the history of land-use change in the region and how it shifted nutrient and pathogen sources within the Grand Bay system over time. At the end of the project, the research team and stakeholders worked together to determine what educational outreach materials produced from the research results were of the greatest value to enhance local water quality.
The project team produces educational outreach materials for audiences throughout Grand Bay. The materials will raise awareness of the positive and negative effects of land-use change for the general public, community organizations, and decisionmakers within the region. The materials will educate audiences about the ways to preserve and protect Grand Bay from waterborne pathogens and excess nutrients. The team will use science-based information to reinforce the importance of reducing stormwater contamination, improving wastewater management, and implementing land-use planning that takes water resources into account.
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.