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National Academies Gulf of Mexico report

Alan Flurry

new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says that assessing the success of the nation’s largest ecological restoration investment effort will require continued improvements in data collection and synthesis and coordination across the Gulf of Mexico region.

The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon platform explosion and oil spill seriously damaged Gulf of Mexico ecosystems from Texas to Florida. The resulting civil and criminal claims, fines, and penalties included over $16 billion to be used for economic and environmental restoration activities. The unprecedented number and diversity of these activities provide a rich body of evidence that can inform future planning, monitoring, and assessment, according to An Approach for Assessing U.S. Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration: A Gulf Research Program Environmental Monitoring Report.

Moving beyond project-level assessment presents novel challenges, particularly in the context of a restoration effort that encompasses a large number of activities across such a broad geographic area. Individual projects can interact with each other in ways that are mutually reinforcing or, alternatively, in conflict. The effects of environmental background trends on restoration efforts, such as those associated with climate change, further complicate these assessments. Understanding the effectiveness of restoration at a Gulf-wide level, therefore, will require supplementing traditional project evaluation methodologies with new approaches, says the report.

For example, using diverse sources of information to develop “multiple lines of evidence” provides a promising avenue for evaluating restoration efforts at a regional scale. Furthermore, standardizing approaches to data collection, analysis, and reporting to support effective synthesis will better enable adaptive management approaches, which are needed to effectively implement restoration strategies against the backdrop of long-term environmental trends such as sea level rise, increasing hurricane intensity, and rising water temperatures.

“In this report, we propose a new framework for assessing the cumulative impact of multiple ecosystem restoration projects within the context of long-term environmental change across a large scale in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Deepak Mishra, Merle C. Prunty, Jr. Professor & associate head of the UGA department of geography who served as a member of the National Academy team for two years working on the report. “We also provide guidance on multi-faceted monitoring systems (sensors, platforms, satellites, crowdsourcing) for collecting a wide variety of observational datasets to assess the cumulative impact of these restoration projects funded after the BP oil spill.”

The report emphasizes the challenges of coordination across so many state, federal, and international jurisdictional lines, as the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems cross multiple political boundaries, and provides a series of recommended actions for the organizations tasked with managing the key Gulf restoration and recovery funding streams.

“This is a transformative report that delves into theoretical underpinnings of cumulative impact assessment, provides guidance on monitoring tools and techniques, and is designed to provide a roadmap that can help assure cost-effective and impactful restoration in the Gulf," Mishra said.

See the full release from the National Academies.


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