Executive Summary

Extraordinary changes have occurred during this century in the nation's coastal habitats, the way society views them, and how and what management is attempted. The most striking changes placed great pressure on marine and estuarine ecosystems. Conversion, alteration, and loss of marine habitat are both a consequence and symptom of coincidental developments that include:

  • a concentration and continuing growth of human populations in the coastal zone;

  • a proliferation of industrial and residential shoreline development;

  • human activities that degrade water quality;

  • increasing commercial and recreational use of marine and estuarine areas;

  • development of natural resources in the coastal zone;

  • physical changes in the environment, including subsidence, elevation, and sea level changes; and

  • construction and maintenance of port and waterways systems and operation of associated commercial vessels.

Although changes may be gradual or episodic, prodigious cumulative losses have led to great uncertainties over physical and biological dependencies within coastal ecosystems, and coastal development has had profound adverse effects on the functioning of marine habitat and coastal processes. These facts are all the more alarming because marine habitats are critical to the production and replenishment of living marine resources and to the vitality of commercial fisheries,



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Restoring and Protecting Marine Habitat: The Role of Engineering and Technology Executive Summary Extraordinary changes have occurred during this century in the nation's coastal habitats, the way society views them, and how and what management is attempted. The most striking changes placed great pressure on marine and estuarine ecosystems. Conversion, alteration, and loss of marine habitat are both a consequence and symptom of coincidental developments that include: a concentration and continuing growth of human populations in the coastal zone; a proliferation of industrial and residential shoreline development; human activities that degrade water quality; increasing commercial and recreational use of marine and estuarine areas; development of natural resources in the coastal zone; physical changes in the environment, including subsidence, elevation, and sea level changes; and construction and maintenance of port and waterways systems and operation of associated commercial vessels. Although changes may be gradual or episodic, prodigious cumulative losses have led to great uncertainties over physical and biological dependencies within coastal ecosystems, and coastal development has had profound adverse effects on the functioning of marine habitat and coastal processes. These facts are all the more alarming because marine habitats are critical to the production and replenishment of living marine resources and to the vitality of commercial fisheries,

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Restoring and Protecting Marine Habitat: The Role of Engineering and Technology recreation in the coastal zone, and natural protection of coastal areas from an advancing sea and storm damage. The degree to which marine habitats can survive further pressure is not certain. Thus the management of marine habitats, including marine and estuarine habitats and contiguous shorelines to the top of the intertidal zone, has reached a critical point. Urgent action is required not only to arrest but also to reverse the loss and conversion of marine habitat. Active measures to protect and preserve coastal wetlands are especially needed because of their critical role in the natural functioning of marine ecosystems. However, national, regional, and local policies tend to constrain rather than instigate effective stewardship. Establishment of a proactive national policy to protect, improve, and enlarge marine habitat acreage cannot wait for the resolution of scientific uncertainties; the rate of loss and conversion is too great and the potential consequences of no action too severe to be ignored. Much more could be done with existing habitat knowledge and engineering expertise to enhance, protect, restore, and create marine habitats. But scientific and engineering capabilities cannot achieve their full potential in the absence of a focused policy to guide their application as an important element of a broad-based approach to protecting, preserving, and enlarging marine habitats. Considerable scientific and engineering effort is already being applied, although not always harmoniously. Engineering technologies and structures are employed to maintain a tenuous balance with nature, often adversely altering the physical processes that form and reform coastal features, threatening human habitat and activities in the process. At the same time, many habitat enhancement, restoration, and creation projects are performing well. Much has been learned from them. Many other habitat projects may be functioning according to design but lack the monitoring necessary to document performance. It is time to rethink the role of coastal engineering in serving both human and environmental objectives. An integrated, holistic approach that recognizes engineering practices and capabilities as well as the functions of marine ecosystems and their habitats is especially important. Civil engineers practicing in the coastal zone are increasingly faced with seemingly contradictory objectives: habitat conversion versus restoration; structural versus nonstructural shore protection, use of dredged material as a resource rather than a waste by-product, and commercial versus ecological values. The engineering profession, in cooperation and collaboration with the scientific community, has a growing opportunity to accommodate these competing objectives. It can do so through research and development, education and continuing professional development, innovative application of engineering knowledge and capabilities, and refinement of the general rules of marine habitat management. The principal obstacles to wider use of coastal engineering capabilities in habitat protection, enhancement, restoration, and creation are the institutional, regulatory, and management barriers to using the best available technologies and practices. Decision making options in current regulatory processes lack the flexibility

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Restoring and Protecting Marine Habitat: The Role of Engineering and Technology necessary to engender innovative engineering and management solutions. There are few economic incentives for marine habitat protection and restoration by the private and industrial sectors. Regulators and practitioners are often not sufficiently qualified to guide effective application of habitat protection and restoration technologies. A history of successful projects is necessary for building and sustaining public and private support for more widespread use of habitat protection and restoration technology. However, there are no universally accepted measures on which to gauge performance or direct the evolving state of practice. One approach to habitat restoration espouses a strong ecological perspective defining success principally in terms of the ability to recreate nature. Although return of a disturbed or totally altered natural area or ecosystem to its predisturbed condition is generally preferred, it is not usually practical or even possible: the understanding of all of the physiological processes and interactions to maintain the functioning of a natural system is not complete. Enhancement of existing sites or partial restoration is often feasible. A determination needs to be made about which natural processes can probably be restored at prospective restoration sites. Another approach, the one endorsed by this report, is that success is defined as achieving well-defined project goals and objectives. This viewpoint deems the ability to replicate nature as very important but not necessarily an exclusive criterion for success; it thus provides the flexibility necessary to accommodate environmental and social (including economic) objectives and allows for partial restoration as a viable alternative where full restoration is infeasible or not possible. Substantial restoration research has been undertaken but often on a project-by-project, opportunistic basis rather than through a systematic program designed to fill gaps in knowledge and technology. Valuable basic and applied (project-specific) research has been performed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and academic research stations, particularly the research sponsored by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Sea Grant Program and the Army Corps of Engineers' dredging and wetlands research programs. Yet, these national research efforts have not been coordinated to conserve and maximize the use of research resources. In addition, availability of research literature is constrained by the lack of information on research documents and their acquisition and costs of procurement or reproduction. Advancing the state of practice will involve creating a climate for developing a better understanding of how an ecosystem functions; promoting policy and procedural change; establishing restoration goals and objectives; cooperation among involved organizations, including integrated and collaborative actions;

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Restoring and Protecting Marine Habitat: The Role of Engineering and Technology collaboration of relevant scientific and engineering disciplines; technology adaptation and innovation through experimentation; information transfer; incentive-based solutions; and performance measurement. This study addresses three questions about the role of technology in protecting and improving marine habitats: Do protection, enhancement, restoration, and creation technologies work? What institutional improvements are needed? What research is needed to advance the state of practice? The answers to these questions apply to habitat degradation and loss from both human-induced and natural causes. Whether attempts should be made to reverse natural conditions, and if so, who should pay for this work are important issues, but their analysis is beyond the scope of this report. DO PROTECTION, ENHANCEMENT, RESTORATION, AND CREATION TECHNOLOGIES WORK? Scientific and coastal engineering capabilities can be effectively used to protect, enhance, restore, and create marine habitats, but their application is not a substitute for prudent stewardship of these natural resources. Substantial technology exists for protection and restoration of emergent marshes and intertidal habitat, primarily through dredging and placement of dredged materials. This technology is well developed in coastal engineering practice. Restoration technologies and techniques have been developed to varying degrees for other marine habitat types. Less developed, however, is the technology to ensure restoration of many natural functions of these habitats. Existing knowledge and technology provide a strong foundation from which a credible coastal engineering program could be launched to arrest habitat loss and degradation. Existing engineering capabilities are capable of supporting a program to achieve a net gain in high-quality marine habitat acreage through well-planned and well-executed protection and restoration projects, if such a goal were to be established as national policy. The most favorable results are obtained in protection and restoration projects with multidisciplinary collaboration among scientists and engineers. Multidisciplinary teamwork should be required by federal and state agencies, project sponsors, and practitioners of marine habitat protection and restoration projects. Building widespread acceptance of restoration technologies as a viable means to arrest and reverse habitat loss will require practical demonstration of successful applications under varying site-specific and regional conditions, including

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Restoring and Protecting Marine Habitat: The Role of Engineering and Technology restoration of natural functions. A practical definition of success that establishes performance criteria specific to the project should be used instead of a strict comparison to natural conditions that existed at a site prior to disturbance or alteration, unless restoration to former conditions is the project objective. Performance criteria should be sound but reasonable from both scientific (including ecological) and engineering perspectives, and project performance should be measurable through effective monitoring during and after the effort. The criteria should be determined by authorities responsible for approving marine habitat projects in consultation with scientists, engineers, and interested parties. A practical measure of project performance relevant to natural functions may sometimes be obtained by determining how nearly a project mimics an undisturbed natural habitat of the type being restored nearby in the same ecosystem. Environmental and engineering monitoring should be conducted to establish that quality control objectives are being met, and where feasible, to advance the state of engineering and scientific knowledge about the application of habitat protection and restoration technology. This monitoring should be carried out at frequencies matched to performance objectives and physical and ecological conditions affecting each project site. To the degree that restoration of natural functions is a project objective, monitoring should encompass the organisms that contribute to the processes on which ecosystem health depends. Approving authorities should require that project sponsors commit to long-term maintenance and monitoring sufficient to provide the data necessary for determining project performance, indicate any necessary corrective, and encourage accountability. Insofar as practical, monitoring regimes should be designed and performed to contribute to the advancement of scientific and engineering knowledge about physical and ecological processes and their interaction, and restoration technologies and techniques. Although essential to advancing the state of practice and determining long-term project performance, long-term maintenance and monitoring are likely to increase overall project costs. However, effective monitoring coupled with timely corrective action could help avoid or mitigate future problems and could result in a long-term cost savings. WHAT INSTITUTIONAL IMPROVEMENTS ARE NEEDED? Degradation and loss of marine habitats will continue unless a firm policy to preserve and protect them is established and backed by a commitment to execute that policy. The executive and legislative branches of the federal government should establish a national policy to prevent or, where development is considered in the national interest, offset, the further degradation, conversion, and loss of marine habitat. The policy should specify goals and establish a time frame for

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Restoring and Protecting Marine Habitat: The Role of Engineering and Technology achieving them. Each federal and state agency with marine habitat management responsibilities should develop compatible and quantitative goals supporting this national policy and establish milestones for their attainment. Emphasis should be placed on protection and sound management of existing resources first, followed by restoration and creation projects where feasible. Institutional policies, regulations, and procedures need to be changed to provide incentives rather than disincentives to invest in marine habitat protection and restoration, especially marine sediments, in marine habitat management; expand options for more effective use of natural resources; increase the opportunities for pilot, demonstration, and experimental habitat protection and restoration programs and projects; remove procedural barriers to advancing the state of practice of marine habitat restoration; improve understanding of the multiple facets of marine habitat management, including physical processes, natural functions of ecosystems, impacts of human origin, and restoration capabilities; and motivate widespread evaluation, documentation, and publication of lessons learned. Substantial action will be required to effect these changes. All federal, state, and local agencies with jurisdiction over or responsibility for marine habitat management should individually and collectively revise policies and procedures to improve opportunities for use of suitable restoration technologies, taking into account which natural functions can be restored or facilitated; encourage and support the innovative application of available and emerging restoration technologies; improve intra- and interorganizational coordination to accommodate competing interests in marine resources; include environmental and economic benefits derived from nonstructural measures in benefit/cost ratios of marine habitat projects; and examine the feasibility of improving economic incentives for marine habitat restoration in their areas of responsibility. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should specifically revise its policies to facilitate more effective transportation and use of dredged material as a habitat restoration resource, even when its use is more expensive than disposal in the least costly environmentally acceptable manner. This change should be emphasized nationwide. The Corps of Engineers and the NMFS should establish a funding agreement (comparable to the Corps' agreement with the USFWS) for

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Restoring and Protecting Marine Habitat: The Role of Engineering and Technology an interagency transfer of funds to NMFS to enhance execution of its obligations under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. All federal agencies should review existing projects to determine whether they can initiate improvements beneficial to marine habitats. If necessary, they should seek enabling legislation from Congress. All agencies responsible for marine habitat management should document and broadly distribute information on their experience with the projects that they undertake or oversee. Improvement is needed in scientific and engineering knowledge by all who are involved with marine habitat management, particularly those in the restoration industry and in regulatory bodies. Specifically, multidisciplinary training for coastal engineers needs to address effective responses to the wide range of engineering, ecological, and social issues attending the planning, design, implementation, and operation of marine habitat projects. Voluntary certification from credible organizations is one indicator of professional qualifications; it also improves an individual's perceived potential to perform effectively. This procedure should be encouraged. Continued professional development should be required as a means for building and maintaining a credible base of restoration expertise. WHAT RESEARCH IS NEEDED TO ADVANCE THE STATE OF PRACTICE? Although existing engineering capabilities can be applied to habitat protection and restoration, basic research is needed to complete the scientific knowledge of marine habitat functions and processes. Basic research is also needed in scientific and engineering predictive capabilities relative to marine habitat and coastal processes. A better way of quantifying the value of marine habitat needs to be developed. A systematic, coordinated national program of dedicated research is needed to address Natural functions in restored or created marine habitats; Hydrology and hydraulics of marine ecosystems; Sediment properties that influence the physical and biological performance of restoration projects; Sediment transport by natural energy; Use of dredged material in full and partial restoration; Use of new and innovative dredging equipment for habitat restoration; Habitat utilization by biota in marine ecosystems; Recruitment mechanisms for marine intertidal biota; Structures and functions of artificial reefs; and Methodologies for economic valuation of marine habitats. The executive branch should designate an appropriate federal agency to convene an interagency committee to develop and coordinate a national research program

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Restoring and Protecting Marine Habitat: The Role of Engineering and Technology that balances research needs, competing agency interests, and available resources. This effort should include representatives of the Departments of the Army, Commerce, and Interior and the EPA. Advice from experts from the scientific and engineering communities should be used to establish specific research needs in each of the aforementioned areas as well as in additional areas identified as the state of practice evolves.