Executive Summary

These conditions involve biological, oceanographic, political, commercial, diplomatic, technological, marketing, academic, economic, and personal relations factors, many of which I do not understand. I've come to the conclusion that nobody else understands all these factors and the interrelations either. Therefore, at every opportunity I seek to thrust together people who have specialized knowledge of one or more of these factors, to the end that they, jointly can produce decisions and conclusions bearing on this objective that are more sound and practical than those produced by any one individual.

—Wilbert McLeod Chapman, 19491

Coastal regions provide the country with valuable natural resources, recreational areas, and prime property for commercial, industrial, and residential development. Over half of the nation's population lives in coastal counties comprising less than one-fifth of the total land area; and growth in these communities is projected to continue at a rapid pace. Nearly 14,000 new housing units are built in coastal counties every week (NOAA, 1998). Coastal counties account for at least 30% of the gross national product for the United States (Culliton et al., 1990), with the cumulative impact from commercial fisheries alone accounting for over $50 billion (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1992). Population pressures have led to the drainage of wetlands and loss of habitat, increased the levels and transport

1  

 Wilbert McLeod Chapman, California's top fishery officer in 1949, in reference to the initiation of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations, a regional fisheries research initiative (Scheiber, 1990).



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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research Executive Summary These conditions involve biological, oceanographic, political, commercial, diplomatic, technological, marketing, academic, economic, and personal relations factors, many of which I do not understand. I've come to the conclusion that nobody else understands all these factors and the interrelations either. Therefore, at every opportunity I seek to thrust together people who have specialized knowledge of one or more of these factors, to the end that they, jointly can produce decisions and conclusions bearing on this objective that are more sound and practical than those produced by any one individual. —Wilbert McLeod Chapman, 19491 Coastal regions provide the country with valuable natural resources, recreational areas, and prime property for commercial, industrial, and residential development. Over half of the nation's population lives in coastal counties comprising less than one-fifth of the total land area; and growth in these communities is projected to continue at a rapid pace. Nearly 14,000 new housing units are built in coastal counties every week (NOAA, 1998). Coastal counties account for at least 30% of the gross national product for the United States (Culliton et al., 1990), with the cumulative impact from commercial fisheries alone accounting for over $50 billion (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1992). Population pressures have led to the drainage of wetlands and loss of habitat, increased the levels and transport 1    Wilbert McLeod Chapman, California's top fishery officer in 1949, in reference to the initiation of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations, a regional fisheries research initiative (Scheiber, 1990).

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research of nutrients and toxic chemicals into the marine environment, increased shoreline erosion, facilitated the introduction of destructive non-native species, and depleted natural resources. Policymakers are challenged with the competing demands for economic development, mitigation of natural hazards, protection of public health and safety, environmental protection, habitat restoration, and the sustainable use of fisheries and other living resources. The declining health of marine and estuarine ecosystems and the subsequent loss of their economic benefits due to human alterations of the coastal environment has made meeting these challenges more urgent. The protection and restoration of these ecosystems will require research to support ecosystem-based management and sustained monitoring of environmental indices to evaluate the impacts of human activities and understand natural variability. One obstacle to satisfying this need for research and monitoring is that the boundaries of ecosystems do not conform to political divisions at the local, state, or national level. In contrast, regional features of ecosystems, such as coastal ocean currents, estuarine habitats, and drainage basins, do affect management decisions at a local level. Hence, what at first appears to be a local problem frequently cannot be resolved without the benefit of a regional perspective. For example, the mitigation of the effects of oxygen depletion in bottom waters on the Louisiana shelf may require the development of a nutrient management strategy for the entire Mississippi River watershed. Resolution of these types of problems requires regional approaches to provide coordination across jurisdictional boundaries to address the larger scale scientific concerns of interest to government agencies, academia, public interests, and industry. Recognition of the regional nature of marine and coastal ecosystem processes has increased the focus on the need for regionally organized research programs. The mismatches between the functional size and complexity of marine ecosystems and the fragmented authority for coastal research and resource management among state and federal agencies have resulted in largely uncoordinated, sector-by-sector management (e.g., fisheries vs. coastal zone management), multiple levels of governance, and geographically and topically constrained research. An additional impediment has been the tradition in scientific research that rewards narrowly focused and discipline-driven research, an approach that is incompatible with the scale and interdisciplinary nature of coastal environmental issues. Because most coastal states have jurisdiction over ocean areas smaller than the regional scales of the environmental issues they must address, regional marine research programs are needed to bridge the gap between state and federal activities and to support the development of ecosystem-based approaches to managing coastal resources. Historically, most regional-scale programs have been instituted in response to specific environmental or resource issues. For example, the California Cooperative Fisheries Investigation (CalCOFI) program was initiated in 1949 in response to the collapse of the sardine fishery. As appreciation of the interdiscipli-

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research nary and multidimensional character of environmental issues has increased, there have been attempts to address regional needs more directly. One of these, the Regional Marine Research Program (RMRP), was established by Congress in 1990 to provide a mechanism to fund coastal marine research based on regionally-defined priorities. The RMRP legislation established a system of nine regional marine research boards around the United States. Each board was responsible for planning marine research to address issues of water quality and ecosystem health on a regional scale. Although all nine regions received funding for planning activities and development of a research plan, only the Gulf of Maine RMRP received funding for program implementation. The completion of the Gulf of Maine program, in 1997, presents an opportunity to evaluate whether the process for planning and managing the Gulf of Maine research was adequate, whether the research fulfilled the goals of the program, and whether this experience should serve as a model for similar regional programs elsewhere. The sponsors of this report included the National Sea Grant Program, the Gulf of Maine RMRP, and the Coastal Ocean Program (COP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ronald Baird, director of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program, requested that the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council undertake a study of the RMRP, with a specific review of the Gulf of Maine program. At the request of the COP, the scope of the study was increased to include other models for regional marine research, including regional programs developed by the COP. The committee assembled by the National Research Council was specifically tasked to: assess the need for regional marine research, review processes by which regional marine research needs can be defined, and discuss existing programs for regional marine research in the United States. The study committee was asked to identify short- and long-term approaches that might be taken by NOAA (alone or in cooperation with other agencies) to conduct regional marine research. The Gulf of Maine RMRP and one or more similar programs at NOAA, EPA, and NSF were identified as case studies in the examination of the three issues described above. EVALUATION OF REGIONAL MARINE RESEARCH PROGRAMS The committee examined several models for regional marine research and evaluated their performance to identify effective components of past or existing programs that should be integrated into future regional programs. The scope of this study was insufficient to examine all regional marine programs; but at the request of the sponsors, the committee used two NOAA programs as case studies:

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research the Gulf of Maine RMRP (GOM-RMRP), established in 1990 and terminated in 1997, and the Nutrient Enhanced Coastal Ocean Productivity (NECOP) program in the Northern Gulf of Mexico Program, established in 1989 and terminated in 1996. The GOM-RMRP and NECOP programs provide contrasts in the identification, planning, and funding of regional research. The GOM-RMRP is an example of a nationally mandated, regionally organized, and regionally implemented research program run through the state Sea Grant offices, whereas NECOP is an example of a regionally implemented program organized at the national level through the COP of NOAA. Gulf of Maine Regional Marine Research Program The RMRP legislation emphasized the involvement of scientists and resource managers in setting research priorities and in coordinating regional monitoring and research. In the Gulf of Maine, researchers and managers formed associations that expedited the efforts of the regional marine research (RMR) board in developing the research plan. Research priorities were identified through a series of workshops held under the auspices of the Regional Association for Research on the Gulf of Maine (RARGOM), a regional association of researchers, and the Gulf of Maine Council, a regional association of coastal zone managers. The Gulf of Maine research plan was funded directly through federal legislation and implemented through the Sea Grant College Program. The plan identified contaminant transport and causes of noxious algal blooms as the top research priorities. Although significant progress was made toward developing circulation models for the Gulf of Maine and understanding the processes that result in algal blooms, the lack of funding for the last half of the 10-year program decreased the scope of the research and limited the opportunities for synthesis and analysis. The history of the GOM-RMRP highlights the need for a long-term commitment to regional marine research planning and implementation by federal and state agencies. Nutrient Enhanced Coastal Ocean Productivity Program The COP of NOAA conducted NECOP as an initiative under the theme of Coastal Ecosystem Health. The goal of NECOP was to ''improve the environmental quality of coastal waters by predicting the harmful effects of nutrient over-enrichment" (NOAA, 1991). The program was originally envisioned to examine nutrient-enhanced productivity in several coastal regions, but funding was only available for the first site selected, the northern Gulf of Mexico (NRC,

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research 1994a). NECOP played a major role in bringing the problem of bottom water hypoxia on the Mississippi shelf to the attention of resource managers and the public. However, the program suffered from several initial design problems. These included the failure to address regional processes adequately, such as the effects of winds and coastal currents on the river plume, and the poor coordination of the program with the Louisiana-Texas Shelf Physical Oceanography Program (LaTex), a study of circulation in the northern Gulf of Mexico that was sponsored by the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS; NRC, 1994b). These problems illustrate the need for regional cooperation and coordination in planning research activities and demonstrate the value of thorough scientific planning and review. The committee discussed several other programs with a regional focus that provided useful comparisons with the two case studies described above. One of these, the Long Term Management Strategy (LTMS) for San Francisco Bay, was organized to address the problem of dredged material disposal. The program created a new administrative structure to ensure the involvement of numerous government agencies and interested parties. Because no such structure existed prior to the initiation of this effort, substantial time and financial investments were needed to develop a consensus plan that resolved conflicts over this commercially vital, but environmentally threatening activity. The history of the LTMS demonstrates the value of having regional associations in place to facilitate resolution of controversial and complex environmental problems. In Chesapeake Bay, the Land Margin Ecosystem Research (LMER) program demonstrated the benefits of sustained environmental monitoring. Before the LMER was initiated, a monitoring program had been established by the multiagency, multi-state Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP). The LMER program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), had goals similar to NECOP, in that it addressed the role of ecosystems in modulating the fluxes of materials between terrestrial and oceanic systems. However, the LMER benefited from the monitoring program of the CBP. This monitoring program provided the larger-scale observational framework needed to discern the influence of human activities from interannual environmental variability. KEY ELEMENTS OF REGIONAL MARINE RESEARCH This report describes the key elements of an effective program for regional marine research based on the committee's review of several regional programs. These elements form the foundation for designing a coherent and comprehensive strategy of research and monitoring that addresses environmental issues at the local, state, and regional levels, with oversight and coordination at the national level.

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research Addressing Societal Needs Regional marine research requires integrated programs of research and sustained observations to provide results that are responsive to the needs of both scientists and managers. Regional research should improve predictive capability through generalizations obtained by comparative analysis of coastal ecosystems. It should also enable timely assessment and mitigation of local problems that reflect change or variability occurring over long periods of time and large geographic areas. These goals may be accomplished through: Community Involvement. Scientists, resource managers, policymakers, and other stakeholders should be engaged in setting research priorities, planning, implementation, program evaluation, dissemination of research results, and public education. Effective means for ensuring the exchange of information among scientists, managers, and the public should be established. Data Collection and Management. Procedures need to be established for quality assurance, timely dissemination, and archiving of data. Observing systems should be linked to hypothesis-driven research to improve monitoring and to develop a predictive understanding of environmental phenomena. Potential products might include: circulation models to help predict the dispersion of pollutants or the transport of fish larvae; ecosystem models to help assess the impacts of nutrient run-off and predict episodes of anoxia; and establishment of environmental baselines to allow early detection of a disturbance, such as a toxic algal bloom or the collapse of a fish or marine mammal population. Information gathered from these studies should be communicated through workshops with researchers, managers, policymakers, and other interested members of the community, websites containing accessible databases, and peer-reviewed journal publications. Effective Use of Expertise. It is important to ensure that policymakers and managers are informed of the current state of knowledge, the limits of the research, and the risks and uncertainties of management actions. Regional programs should enhance resource managers' capacity to assess ecosystem health using scientifically-sound research and monitoring strategies. Sustained research and monitoring will provide the context and organizational structure for a rapid and coordinated response to unanticipated events and will support adaptive management strategies through assessment of the effectiveness of environmental policies and development of alternative approaches. Developing Programs for Regional Research Regional marine research initiatives are most successful when they combine bottom-up and top-down approaches to program development and implementa-

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research tion.2 Bottom-up identification of research needs ensures relevance and gathers the support of the user communities, while top-down coordination ensures the sharing of information and technologies among different regions and facilitates the establishment of common standards for data collection and management. Three elements for enabling regional marine research were identified: Develop public and political awareness of the need for regional scale programs. Regional programs fill a niche between state and federal programs and their success depends on the long-term commitment and cooperation of agencies at both levels of government. Consequently, proponents of regional marine research need to articulate the benefits of regional approaches and develop sustained public and political support. Regional research typically requires substantial effort to coordinate programs and funds to support long-term projects across large areas. Therefore, advocates should explain the need for a regional approach to understand and manage challenges such as fisheries declines, habitat degradation, shoreline erosion, and water pollution. Coordinate efforts between government agencies at the local, state, and federal level. Regional research addresses the intersecting needs of state and federal agencies, but there is no governance structure that facilitates bottom-up planning and top-down coordination of research at this scale. NOAA and the other federal agencies that support research in coastal and marine areas currently do not have the programmatic commitment to perform this role. Hence, a mechanism is needed for coordination of research between the various state and federal agencies to ensure that their various scientific priorities and management missions are melded into a cooperative, integrated program. To be effective, the administration of this effort will require leadership to ensure the quality of the research and the productive coordination of regional and national programs. Develop a strategy for assuring support that is predictable and commensurate with the scale of the program. Funding must be sustained and predictable for the potential benefits of a regional-scale research program to be realized. However, responsibility for research and monitoring in coastal ecosystems is divided among multiple agencies and levels of government making it difficult to support integrated regional-scale programs. The committee identified three alternative mechanisms to help overcome this barrier: Dedicated funding coordinated through a lead agency responsible for leadership, budgeting, and allocation of funds. Oversight would be provided by 2   "Bottom up" refers to the broad spectrum of users in the target region and "top-down" refers to the program offices in the relevant federal agencies.

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Bridging Boundaries through Regional Marine Research an interagency committee and, possibly, a federal advisory committee to provide advice from non-federal user groups. The RMRP, where NOAA was the lead federal agency, provides one possible model for this approach. Multiagency funding committed through an interagency Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and coordinated by an interagency committee. In this model, funds would be allocated by the individual agency based on programmatic relevance. Establishment of a pool of funds provided by participating agencies to be distributed by an interagency program. The interagency office would operate through a host agency under guidelines and procedures for allocation of funds determined by a steering committee. Implementation of these last two funding options requires an interagency program. A partnership of federal government agencies has recently been established, the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP), which provides one potential model for this type of interagency program. NOPP is a new program whose role is to integrate national efforts and coordinate national investments in ocean research and education. Although it has potential, NOPP is too recent an initiative to know whether the multiple agencies will succeed in coordinating their efforts and developing sufficient resources to address the organizational needs of regional marine research programs. Implementation of any of the funding mechanisms described above will require coordination through one agency at the national level. The federal agency with the broadest mandate for marine environmental research is NOAA; hence NOAA should provide the leadership necessary to develop regional marine research efforts of the type recommended in this report. Although many NOAA programs currently have a coastal component, no one office is an obvious choice for implementing a plan for regional research. Therefore, the committee recommends that senior management at NOAA designate an office to assume this responsibility. Leadership through one office is needed to meet the challenges in planning and implementing regional programs and to provide direction, coordination, and oversight of regional marine research. Finally, programs for regional marine research should ensure that research support is allocated based upon peer review by impartial and unconflicted experts; and that the process is open to public scrutiny. Also, research should be supported through federal-state partnerships, requiring matching funds from states within the region of concern. Regional marine research programs must be designed to serve the multiple needs of science education, basic research, and the application of scientific information to the solution of environmental management challenges in our coastal ecosystems.