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How do MEBM Projects Use and Collaboratively Manage Science?

Ensured Relevance and Credibility of Scientific Information

Prioritized Research – By establishing a hierarchy of research needs, projects have guided researchers to produce information critical to achieving success.

Prioritized Research

  • The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program commissioned over 110 peer-reviewed, scientific and policy related research studies from 1985 to 1991, which allowed Program staff to explore major issues of concern and identify strategic priorities and information gaps.
  • The Northwest Straits Commission held workshops to bring together scientists to identify and prioritize baseline data needs for assessing conservation strategies and evaluating success. The workshops led to research projects and surveys, and helped the Commission fulfill its goal to use science as the basis for its conservation efforts.
  • The Babeldaob Island Ecosystem-Based Management Initiative (Palau) created a map of decision-making processes to help direct communication of research results to appropriate decision-makers. Generating research relevant to land use planning and state and national policy was one of the initiative’s overarching strategies.
Used Funding as Leverage – By funding scientific research, projects have enabled and incentivized researchers to develop information critical to achieving project goals.

Used Funding as Leverage

  • The Northwest Straits Commission created a separate organization to leverage funds to underwrite regional, ecosystem-focused research in line with Commission priorities. Research topics included surveys of forage fish spawning, shellfish populations, and derelict gear issues, as well as a hydrodynamic model of Puget Sound.
  • Composed of technical staff from the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Resources, and the NOAA Coastal Zone Management Office, a Reserve Research Working Group developed research priorities that alerted external scientists to topics that might be eligible for funding or technical support.
  • The Gulf of Mexico Alliance was selected to administer a 10-year commitment of $500 million pledged by BP following the 2010 oil spill. The Alliance will be able to direct the funding toward academic research in the Gulf States that helps promote regional collaboration to enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico.
Linked Data and Assessments to Management Choices – Projects have developed baseline data and identified indicators that helped managers assess trends. Some of these efforts have involved managers in developing research questions and data to ensure that the questions are relevant to management needs and managers trust the data.

Linked Data and Assessments to Management Choices

  • The Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program commissioned a seminal scientific report that summarized the condition and trends in the Albemarle-Pamlico system and provided the basis for the project’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. The plan established priorities for activities, research, and funding for the estuary and served as a blueprint for future action. The report came out of a $10 million grant for a 5-year estuary study, which resulted in more than 100 technical publications produced by university and state agency researchers.
  • The Gulf of Maine Council identified indicator focus areas that specifically informed coastal managers, decision-makers, and lawmakers in the Gulf of Maine region. Indicators included aquatic habitats, coastal development, contaminants, climate change, eutrophication, and fisheries and aquaculture. By ensuring the indicators were relevant to the target audiences, the Council’s monitoring activities helped decision-makers assess whether management decisions were having the desired effect.
  • The Gulf of California, Mexico Shrimp Fisheries Project staff realized the importance of including resource managers in data collection after discovering that managers were skeptical of the project’s scientific results. The project changed its strategy, prioritizing resource manager involvement throughout the research process, and project staff met extensively with key fisheries management officials where they agreed to the project goals and to participate on the project’s Steering Committee.
Independent Science Review – Some projects incorporated a form of independent peer review, which enhanced the credibility of their scientific methods and findings.

Independent Science Review

  • The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary commissioned a Science Advisory Panel of independent scientists to periodically peer-review the sanctuary’s research and monitoring program. A six-member panel of scientists from area universities made recommendations for the monitoring program, resulting in a comprehensive science plan that allowed the sanctuary to identify management objectives and monitoring and research needs in a systematic and credible manner.
  • In an example of a bilateral independent science review, the Puget Sound-Georgia Basin International Task Force formed a Marine Science Panel that consisted of six university and government scientists from both British Columbia and Washington State to assess the state of the marine environment and provide recommendations for action by a joint task force.

Established Structures to Manage and Coordinate Scientific Information

Technical Committees – Science advisory boards and technical committees have been used to manage and coordinate monitoring and research programs and help inform policymakers of the science underlying decisions.

Technical Committees

  • For the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a Technical Advisory Committee composed of 24 experts met each year to provide scientific advice on the design and prioritization of projects for the Water Quality Protection Program as well as advice on the research and monitoring in the Marine Sanctuary. The Committee also reviewed the Sanctuary’s science plan to identify research needs.
  • The San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance (SLOSEA) Science Team was responsible for facilitating the development of appropriate research methods, reviewing progress of research and activities in SLOSEA’s six initiative areas, and assisting with the integration of research in management decisions.
  • The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary created a 16-member, non-partisan science advisory panel that provided guidance to the Marine Reserve Working Group. The panel developed an ecological framework and a set of design criteria used to establish and evaluate the effectiveness of the reserve network.
Science Coordinator – Having a designated individual coordinate scientific research and link it to managers has helped to provide accountability and maintain momentum.

Science Coordinator

  • A major responsibility of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program chief scientist was to acquire funding and other resources for research and monitoring, primarily through federal grant proposals and partnerships with local institutions including the University of Rhode Island and Brown University. When hypoxia became a priority issue in the Bay, the chief scientist initiated the development of a long-term oxygen-monitoring program that utilized state, local, federal, and private resources.
  • The Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program hired a full-time science coordinator to oversee the Science and Technical Advisory Committee, develop scientific and technical information, and guide science program decisions. The science coordinator oversaw development of an adaptive management framework, including a monitoring plan, prepared a status and trends report, and ensured that science was linked to management activities.
Joint Research Initiatives – Collaborative efforts have been used to carry out research. In doing so, these efforts decrease the risk of overlapping work and coordinate the availability of resources for science.

Joint Research Initiatives

  • The Gulf of Maine Council supported the Gulf of Maine Mapping Initiative, a U.S.-Canadian partnership of government and nongovernment organizations that conducted comprehensive seafloor imaging, mapping, and biological and geological surveys to facilitate coastal zone management planning.
  • The West Coast Governors’ Alliance on Ocean Health coordinated the three member States in a comprehensive seafloor mapping effort, combining resources and data that can be used to inform coastal managers and stakeholders. The Alliance also partnered with the Canadian government to support long-term ocean observing and monitoring.
Conferences for Sharing Science – Projects have organized and participated in venues designed to promote sharing of research findings. Beyond expanded understanding of others’ research, these venues have triggered new research partnerships between groups working on related issues, and exposed scientific findings to decision-makers and the public.

Conferences for Sharing Science

  • The Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council held regular conferences, occasionally in partnership with other institutions, to facilitate public understanding of science and provide a forum for scientists and resource managers to discuss issues of concern related to Baltic Sea fisheries.
  • Summits and conferences facilitated by the Gulf of Maine Council provided venues for members of the public, business interests and conservation organizations to discuss scientific findings, assess ecosystem conditions in the Gulf of Maine, and develop plans.
  • The Puget Sound-Georgia Basin International Task Force coordinated semi-annual conferences focused on sharing scientific research and exploring its policy implications. These events have been successful at linking scientists from British Columbia and Washington State and resulted in a partnership to expand ecosystem indicator assessments to both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the Basin.

Used Tools to Integrate and Coordinate Scientific Information

Methods to Integrate and Harmonize Datasets – Incompatible or conflicting datasets can be challenging to ecosystem-scale initiatives. As a result, some projects have developed methods and tools to integrate scientific information more effectively.

Methods to Integrate and Harmonize Datasets

  • The Gulf of Mexico Alliance created a Data Management Advisory Committee to guide development of a plan for data management and coordination among the Alliance’s Priority Issue Teams and the five member states.
  • The Gulf of Maine Council and other groups partnered with the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System to develop a web-based system that enabled sharing, integration, and use of coastal habitat monitoring data. The web-based, open-source Regional Habitat Monitoring Data System was populated by monitoring programs around the Gulf of Maine that entered and safely stored data in the system. The system also allowed multiple groups to access data simultaneously.
  • In partnership with government agencies, NGOs, and university groups, the Northeast Regional Ocean Council developed a Northeast Ocean Data Portal focused on the region ranging from the Gulf of Maine to Long Island Sound. The portal was formed as a publicly accessible, online system to assist managers, planners, scientists, and stakeholders involved in coastal and marine spatial planning. It harmonized datasets from across the region in a spatially explicit and user-friendly way, and now serves as a model being adopted by other regions in the United States.
  • The Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program combined multiple data sources to create a Directory of Monitoring Information Sources. The directory is characterized by a user-friendly interface that includes descriptions of existing monitoring efforts and datasets organized by river basin or sound. The directory allows viewers to see, at a glance, what type of work has been done in their region.
Systems Models – Ecosystem models have been used to better conceptualize complex ecosystem interactions and assess the potential of management strategies.

Systems Models

  • In order to better understand species population connectivity in the northern gulf, the Artisanal Fisheries of the Northern Gulf of California, Mexico, Environment and Society Project (PANGAS) developed two population connectivity models—the HAMSOM and ROMS models—which improved knowledge about the physical and biological structure of key rocky habitat sites and supplemented other information gained from genetic samples of various species at different sites. Researchers also developed a comprehensive Geographic Information System tool that incorporates more than 3000 layers of spatial information about fisheries.
  • As part of a 10-year, $10 million research initiative, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary developed the first Keys-wide benthic map and assessed cause-and-effect relationships between pollutants and ecological impacts. These scientific mapping and modeling efforts helped the Sanctuary determine whether changes in the ecosystem could be traced to interventions in the management plan and led to support for the extension of municipal wastewater treatment facilities in the Keys.
Science Communication Tools – MEBM initiatives have worked to translate scientific information and make it accessible by creating interactive tools for decision-makers, stakeholders, and other interested parties.

Science Communication Tools

  • The five Mid-Atlantic States that form the Mid-Atlantic Governors’ Agreement jointly created a Mapping and Planning Portal, an interactive online tool that allows state, federal, and local decision-makers, and the public to visualize, query, map, and analyze ocean and coastal data in the Mid-Atlantic region.
  • The Gulf of Maine Council published an interactive map that showed monitoring locations for several focus areas including aquatic habitat, climate change and coastal development. Intending to inform resource managers, decision-makers, and lawmakers, the Council planned on using the mapping tool to highlight spatial and temporal trends.

Engaged Citizens and Stakeholders in Developing Science

Science Education Programs – Public education programs have been used to educate stakeholders and the public about scientific findings. These programs often help engage communities, increase their understanding about ecosystem health, and explain the need for and challenges associated with management strategies.

Science Education Programs

  • Scientific research conducted through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s monitoring programs provided the basis for a set of public education programs, including one-page fact sheets on the science-based monitoring efforts at the Sanctuary as well as a weekly radio show. The Sanctuary also provided small grants for teachers to further environmental education. These efforts informed residents about latest findings and ensured realistic public expectations about management achievements.
  • At the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, education programs included a Coastal Training Program for professionals and courses for K-12 teachers and students. In addition, community outreach programs incorporated entertainment, community-building events, and public information sessions about issues such as risks to nesting seabird populations from dogs and human activities. The Reserve worked hard to increase the amount of science in its education programs because staff found that it helped community members participate and learn more effectively.
Citizen Science Some MEBM initiatives have used volunteers to monitor and collect data. In doing so, they harness human capacity and resources that are often in short supply, while helping members of the community learn more about the science underlying directions.

Citizen Science

  • The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve organized two citizen volunteer monitoring initiatives—BayWatchers and CoastWatchers—which collected field samples to monitor water quality in the Bay and coastal erosion on the beach. Reserve staff trained volunteers to measure salinity, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and erosion, and provided the necessary equipment. In exchange, the Reserve received data that helped it assess progress toward management goals.
  • To build capacity, the Artisanal Fisheries of the Northern Gulf of California, Mexico, Environment and Society Project (PANGAS) trained students and fishermen in ecosystem-based monitoring of rocky reefs. Due partly to these engagement efforts, professional and volunteer participation in the initiative grew from 5 principal investigators to over 40 members in three years.
Innovative Partnerships – Creative public-public and public-private partnerships have been used to expand research capacity and obtain scientific data.

Innovative Partnerships

  • The Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program staff contributed to FerryMon, an innovative partnership in which local universities and federal agencies utilized the state ferry transportation system to monitor water quality. The program increased monitoring capacity in the region and allowed the Estuary Program to improve relationships with other institutions and entities.
  • When no funding was available to monitor hypoxia in the Bay, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program developed partnerships with the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute, Brown University, Save the Bay, the local EPA laboratory, and the local NOAA research reserve. These organizations contributed equipment and volunteers. Interestingly, the effort proved that contrary to longstanding scientific opinion, hypoxic conditions were present in the Bay; results were used to support passage of legislation requiring a 50% reduction of nutrients from wastewater plants.
Stakeholder Engagement – Engaging local organizations and community members in the scientific process has at times produced more accurate research outcomes while building beneficial relationships with the community.

Stakeholder Engagement

  • Stakeholder engagement workshops held by the San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance (SLOSEA) fostered discussion among participants about the linkages between the ecosystem and people. This dialogue allowed stakeholders to reach their own conclusions about the project and engaged them in the process of scientific inquiry and decision-making.
  • The Babeldaob Island Ecosystem-Based Management Initiative (Palau) organized meetings among researchers, resource managers, and other stakeholders in Palau to develop research questions for the ecosystem-based management initiative. As a result, a community consensus emerged that the lack of good baseline data for many habitats and species in Palau was a critical issue.

Accessed and Used Local and Traditional Knowledge

Engaged User Groups in Data Collection – Projects have improved research design and scientific outcomes by incorporating expertise from local user groups through surveys and collaborative partnerships.

Engaged User Groups in Data Collection

  • Collaborative research carried out by fishermen and university and government scientists in the Port Orford, Oregon Community Stewardship Area was motivated by a lack of local scientific information to inform management decision-making. In addition to sharing their knowledge of the reef, fishermen also assisted with data collection and offered charter boat services to scientists, all of which benefitted the design and implementation of science projects.
  • The Gulf of California, Mexico Shrimp Fisheries Project administered surveys to obtain demographic information about fishermen, data on the number of fishing trials performed each season, perceptions about current problems, and opinions about alternative management schemes. Surveys were administered in popular fishermen hangouts such as gas stations, beaches and delivery sites.
  • One way the Artisanal Fisheries of the Northern Gulf of California, Mexico, Environment and Society Project (PANGAS) obtained local knowledge was through a voluntary region-wide fishermen logbook program, in which fishermen recorded their daily fishing activities to help assess the long term dynamics of the region’s data-poor, small-scale fisheries. The logbook program provided an additional way to involve the fishing sector in research and management, and ensured that management guidelines reflected local and regional fishing dynamics.
  • Through the San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance (SLOSEA) collaborative fisheries initiative, local knowledge from fishermen and skippers was combined with scientific expertise to develop monitoring protocols for Marine Protected Areas and inform fisheries management. Fishermen’s expertise was used to select fishing locations and methods, and scientists and fishermen interpreted the data together.
Incorporated Traditional Knowledge – Informal partnerships and consultation with tribes and First Nations have provided access to traditional ecological and social knowledge that has supplemented and at times challenged scientific understanding of marine systems.

Incorporated Traditional Knowledge

  • In order to meet its Science Benchmark, the Northwest Straits Commission identified an objective to include traditional knowledge in scientific investigations. Shortly after, tribal involvement increased and partnerships formed around projects, including a partnership with the Samish Indian Nation to restore eroding shorelines and collect samples from stormwater outfalls.
  • As the largest, most comprehensive scientific research and policy conference in the Salish Sea region, the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, hosted by Environment Canada and the Puget Sound Partnership, involved many participants from the Coast Salish Tribes and Nations and incorporated traditional knowledge into science and policy discussions. At the 2009 conference, one plenary session focused on traditional ecological knowledge during which speakers from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and a USGS official described the transboundary Tribal Journey water quality project—a partnership through which tribal canoe families helped USGS collected over 40,000 data points in the Salish Sea, blending traditional knowledge and cultural practices with more conventional science.
  • The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, American Indian tribes, and the state of Washington created an Intergovernmental Policy Council to provide a formal process for government-to-government interaction and cooperation related to activities within the sanctuary.

This material should be cited as: "Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, Marine Ecosystem-Based Management in Practice (Ann Arbor MI: School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, June 2012),"