Monday, October 24, 2011

Gulf of Mexico Task Force Formulates Plan for Coastal Science

William Nuttle, Organizer for CERF 2011 Synthesis Sessions

Early in October, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force released a preliminary version of its strategy for ecosystem restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. Its purpose is to coordinate coastal management by agencies in the five Gulf Coast states and the federal government. The strategy builds on existing research and ecosystem restoration plans and current restoration activities in the region to set a direction for future work. If adopted, the science needs identified by the Task force will set the direction for coastal and estuarine science for years to come.

President Obama created the Task Force one year ago in direct response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico but also in recognition of long-term threats to ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. Since that time, the Task Force has toured the Gulf gathering information on experience with ecosystem restoration and hearing the concerns of stakeholders and the public. This report completes the Task Force’s initial mandate, but it is clear that the intent is for this group, or something like it, to continue to play the role of coordinating coastal management and research in the Gulf into the foreseeable future.

The Task Force strategy calls for ecosystem-based adaptive management with a robust science program as its foundation. Three key elements make up the science program:
  • a comprehensive “watershed to the Gulf” monitoring program, 
  • a regional modeling network, and 
  • research to increase understanding, refine modeling and monitoring and ultimately improve management actions. 

The monitoring program will establish a baseline for reference and measure future changes in the Gulf coast ecosystem. This information is needed to provide an ongoing assessment of the efficacy of management actions. The strategy identifies 31 broad objectives for monitoring in the following categories: physical, biological, chemical, habitat, and soci-economic.

Models are needed to evaluate the response of coastal ecosystems to planned management actions, determine the basic inputs of water, sediment, and nutrients required to sustain the ecosystem, and assess the ecosystem’s resilience to various drivers of change, like climate change and sea level rise. The strategy identifies 14 modeling needs in the categories of predictions and adaptive management and physical and biological models.

The Task Force’s vision for future coastal research in the Gulf recognizes the need for basic, hypothesis-directed research that is “focused on clearly meeting the Strategy needs.” The strategy identifies 42 research needs to support restoration organized by the following categories: resilience, natural processes, risk, ecosystem services, assessment, restoration and hydrologic modification, and climate.

The Task Force’s strategy document is out now for public comment before it will be finalized sometime in the coming months. It’s too early for coastal and estuarine scientists to begin sharpening their pencils and drafting research proposals. The Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Research Strategy represents a step forward toward the goal of implementing coastal management on a regional scale in the US. Therefore, this is a sign of things to come.

This post relates to Topic 4: Baseline change  Topic 5: Dynamic ecosystems, and Topic 6: Management challenges to be discussed during the Synthesis Sessions at CERF 2011.

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