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Improving Interactions Between Coastal Science and Policy: Proceedings of the Gulf of Maine Symposium EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Scientific and technical information related to coastal areas is accumulating at a rapid rate. How will such information be incorporated into coastal policy making? Knowledge about coastal ecosystems, including the human component, can enable the management of these systems in a way that will preserve their existing value and improve degraded systems. A continuous interchange of information between scientists and managers who focus on coastal areas is necessary to use existing scientific information effectively and to address new information requirements. All stakeholders—scientists, managers, industry, the public, environmental groups, and others—should be involved in the formation of coastal policy and in identifying underlying science needs. The National Research Council's Ocean Studies Board (OSB) began a study in 1991 to examine the existing interactions between coastal scientists and policymakers and to recommend means to improve these interactions and resultant coastal policies of the future. The OSB has convened three regional symposia, which focused on California, the Gulf of Maine, and the Gulf of Mexico, and examined different issues of importance in each region. The OSB's Committee on Science and Policy for the Coastal Ocean summarized and synthesized the findings of the three symposia in the form of a report that makes policy recommendations that can be applied nationally, as well as regionally. The Gulf of Maine symposium, convened in November 1994, was the second in the series. Participants included individuals from state and federal agencies, environmental groups, universities, and industry, several of whom were Canadians. Participants focused on three issues of importance in the Gulf of Maine region: responding to the cumulative impacts of land and water activities in the region's estuaries and near-coastal environments, protecting regionally significant terrestrial and marine habitats, and using indicators of environmental quality as a tool to maintain the health of the Gulf of Maine. Each topic was discussed in plenary session and in issue groups devoted to the topic. Participants were
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Improving Interactions Between Coastal Science and Policy: Proceedings of the Gulf of Maine Symposium asked to document examples of successes and failures in the interactions of science and policy for coastal management and to make suggestions for improving these interactions. Many suggestions for improving the use of coastal science in policy making were developed. It was clear that scientific information is more important in some stages of the policy process than in others. Scientists and decisionmakers must be aware of the differences in their cultures and reward systems and create interactive mechanisms that account for these differences. To solve environmental problems, they should be well defined, with the proper questions being asked in a language shared by scientists and policymakers. Scientists must provide timely and credible information that is responsive to the questions asked by decisionmakers. Scientists should explicitly state the significance of their findings and the limitations inherent in the information they provide. They should also identify additional questions that are raised by their research and the potential cost of addressing these questions. Great care must be given to providing a structure for interactions that yields advice that is objective and balanced. Adaptive management systems, in which scientists are substantially involved in planning, evaluating, and modifying management strategies, are gaining favor as a means to improve interactions between scientists and managers for the purpose of creating better environmental policy. The following three issues were discussed in break-out groups and ideas were developed for improving science-policy interactions related to each issue. Cumulative Impacts of Land and Water Activities Estuarine systems are characterized by complex, often nonlinear, relationships among biological, chemical, geological, and physical variables and are extremely dynamic. The accumulation of natural and human-induced impacts in the face of constant natural variability can result in sudden ecosystem collapses of the sort observed in fisheries ecosystems from time to time. Symposium participants who focused on this issue concluded that more information is needed to understand estuarine complexity and variability and that such information could be gathered by a long-term (2 to 3 decades) monitoring program for key variables in the Gulf of Maine region. Observations of ecosystem function, resource availability, and human actions and reactions are needed to understand cumulative impacts and to develop policies to reduce them. A process for developing and using scientific data and information, that addresses the complexity of ecosystems, should also be incorporated. Politics, culture, economics, and social factors must be considered in responding to cumulative impacts. Cumulative impact problems require policy solutions developed at levels ranging from interstate and interprovince to county and local. Mechanisms for coordinating actions among all levels should be developed. Information communicated to policymakers should demonstrate the relevance of scientific issues and should clearly identify the consequences of decisions. Social scientists need to contribute ideas about new mechanisms for motivating desired changes.
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Improving Interactions Between Coastal Science and Policy: Proceedings of the Gulf of Maine Symposium Protecting Regionally Significant Terrestrial and Marine Habitats Regionally significant habitats have been protected in a variety of coastal areas, such as sand dunes, tidal wetlands, and nearshore areas. Areas are protected in the form of marine sanctuaries; estuarine research reserves; county, state, and national parks; and holdings by private non-profit conservation groups (e.g., The Nature Conservancy) and conservation-minded individuals. However, virtually all decisions about the location and size of protected areas are made unilaterally by legislators, agencies, private organizations, or individuals, and seldom involve discussion among all relevant participants to improve the decisions. Specifically, natural and social scientists have little influence in identifying appropriate areas to protect. Symposium participants who focused on this issue suggested that because resources are limited, priorities for habitat protection—based on both environmental characteristics and human values—must be determined. After goals for habitat protection policy have been established, information must be gathered regarding the habitat requirements of organisms and the ecological, social, and economic significance of habitats and organisms. This information must be available from centralized databases in a form that is understandable to policymakers, can be applied to relevant management problems, and includes information about the resources available for habitat protection. Social scientists should contribute information about how coastal inhabitants define and feel about marine habitats, the ideas and observations of coastal inhabitants about the organisms that live in these habitats, and any norms or practices that influence the ways that these habitats are used, protected, or abused. Using Indicators of Environmental Quality Symposium participants who focused on this issue concluded that environmental monitoring is a necessary part of developing and maintaining effective environmental policy. A complete set of indicators of environmental quality for the Gulf of Maine ecosystem should include watershed, estuarine, and marine variables, to promote an integrated understanding of how watershed processes affect marine ecosystems. Successful monitoring programs should use clear, specific, and easily measured variables as indicators, have clear legal mandates providing authority and responsibility for data collection, specify guidelines and methods for data collection, and provide incentives for scientists to provide data collected for other purposes, but useful to monitoring programs. Public involvement in monitoring programs should be encouraged by communicating the social and economic importance of monitoring and by involving the public in collecting and interpreting environmental data, where feasible. Such involvement can be promoted by involving all stakeholders in program development, and policy implementation and evaluation. The results of monitoring programs are diminished when the data collected are of low or uncertain value; data are not appropriately analyzed, synthesized, interpreted, and communicated; uncertainties in the data are not communicated; and data cannot be obtained
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Improving Interactions Between Coastal Science and Policy: Proceedings of the Gulf of Maine Symposium easily by scientists and policymakers. Provision should be made to fund some basic research related to monitoring. Regional marine research and monitoring programs should be coordinated among regional organizations, such as the Regional Association for Research on the Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of Maine Regional Marine Research Program, and the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment. The suggestions for improving interactions between scientists and policymakers on the three issues discussed in the Gulf of Maine region provided a useful foundation for discussions of the OSB Committee on Science and Policy for the Coastal Ocean. These findings and conclusions contributed to the final report of the committee.
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