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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
The National Estuarine Research Reserve System has a proven record of successfully transferring and translating reserve science to a broad suite of educators through teacher workshops. In recent years, teachers expressed a need for curricula, data sets, and professional development related to climate change.
This project enabled Northeast reserves to develop and over a series of free, high-quality Teachers on the Estuary workshops for sixth through twelth grade teachers focused on climate change impacts on coastal habitats, using Sentinel Site and System-Wide Monitoring Program data collected at the reserves.
Southern California lagoons are complex environments that require informed management practices. In their natural states, many of these lagoons periodically open and close to the sea. However, watershed alterations and lagoon inlet modifications have reduced their capacity to open and close as they usually do.
In response, coastal managers have begun to manage these lagoons to remain open for water quality purposes. However, scientists and managers have recently been reconsidering this one-size-fits-all approach to lagoon management. Managing a lagoon mouth to be continually open can be expensive. It also may compromise the lagoon’s unique biodiversity and ecosystem services.
This project analyzed existing lagoon mouth literature and long-term monitoring data from the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve to provide managers with the information needed to improve the health of Southern California’s coastal lagoons.
The National Estuarine Research Reserve System forms a network of coastal sites protected for long-term stewardship, research, and education. To support this mission, the reserve system established the System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) in 1995 to conduct long-term monitoring of water quality, weather, coastal habitat, and biological communities using consistent methods. The monitoring program is critical for reserve coastal management and research. However, realizing the full value of the program is limited by the lack of time, technical expertise, and computational resources reserves have for analyzing large, complex data sets.
This project addressed these constraints by producing tools, graphical support, and training for research staff from the Mid-Atlantic reserves (Jacques Cousteau, Delaware, Chesapeake Bay-Maryland, and Chesapeake Bay-Virginia) to better utilize reserve monitoring data. The project team specifically focused on producing tools to understand water quality trends—a reserve management priority. Through workshops and statistical application development, this project increased capacity to distill monitoring data into a format that resource managers can more readily use. The project team shared their approach and project outputs with participating reserves to increase capacity for the reserve monitoring program.