Panelists showcased regional examples of research providing solutions to coastal challenges at the congressional briefing, “Coastal Science Fueling Coastal Economies, Using Geoscience Research to Accelerate Innovation and the Coastal Economy,” sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and organized by the National Association of Marine Laboratories.
Dr. Pamela Yochem (Executive Vice President, Hubbs – SeaWorld Research Institute) discussed aquaculture’s potential to reinvigorate coastal communities in Southern California. Demand for seafood worldwide is increasing and by 2030 a shortage of 50 million metric tons is expected. With the world’s fisheries at capacity, the gap will have to be made up by aquaculture. Dr. Yochem explained that “the Unites States has recognized that they need a larger domestic supply of safe and sustainable seafood. However, right now about 91% of our seafood is imported. Of the domestic supply… only 2.5% is farmed.” Aquaculture is the world’s fastest growing food production sector, surpassing global beef production in 2011. However, seafood production is regarded as a novelty. Scientists at the Hubbs – SeaWorld Research Institute are conducting research on fish nutrition, health, reproduction, genetics, and environmental monitoring, and are working to identify locations ideal for aquaculture along the California coast. Aquaculture could reinvigorate California’s coastal communities that not too long ago thrived on fishing and processing seafood.
Dr. Megan Davis (Interim Executive Director, FAU Harbor Branch) recounted a powerful example of community involvement leading to state investment to restore the Indian River Lagoon. In Southern Florida, water used to drain into Florida Bay through the Everglades, which slowed down water flow and allowed the limestone to filter the water. With progressing urbanization, water was channeled and diverted, and now flows out east and west from Lake Okeechobee. The large influx of nutrient-rich freshwater disturbs seagrass, fish, marine mammals, and birds by causing changes in salinity, turbidity, and nutrient concentration in the estuaries. During the “Lost Summer” of 2013, harmful algal blooms caused large damage to the region’s economy as oysters died and the waters were closed for the recreational sector. As a consequence, communities came together and rallied to save the Indian River, which led the state of Florida to invest over $220 million in 17 restoration and monitoring projects. Scientists at FAU Harbor Branch now help monitor the water quality in the Indian River Lagoon.
Lisa Auermuller’s (Director, Coastal Training Program, Rutgers University) presentation highlighted the economic advantage of investing in flood mitigation as opposed to restoration. With extreme weather and flooding becoming more frequent, the National Flood Insurance Program is operating in the red, and currently a significantly larger amount of money is being spent on disaster recovery rather than disaster prevention or mitigation. “One of my take home points for today is that for every dollar FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) spends or other agencies spend on mitigating hazards upfront and reducing those hazards, it actually provides about a four dollar benefit back to the future for not having to pay out for those hazards,” Auermuller said. The Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve works with communities through a program called “Getting to Resilience” to assess what the current and future risks and vulnerabilities to coastal hazards are, to plan strategies to address those risks, and to determine short and long term ways to implement those strategies. Flood maps based on sound science provide the basis for the assessment and planning, and assistance is offered to facilitate communication among community leaders. FEMA offers financial incentive to increase community participation.
Finally, Dr. Alan Steinman (Director, Annis Water Resources Institute, Grand Valley State University) shared the success story of Lake Muskegon’s ecosystem restoration. During the industrial era of Michigan sawmills and factories “abused” the lake as a dumping ground for solid and liquid waste, causing 16% of the original water surface to be filled in by debris and water quality to degrade. Economical assessment had shown that money invested in restoration would bring a three-time return on the investment by raising housing prices in the area and bringing in revenue through the recreation sector, not including value of ecosystem services. Local communities invested in a fund to pay for the restoration and long-term monitoring of the ecosystem. “We used science to assess the success and inform this restoration design. It was adaptive management. If the restoration wasn’t going according to plan, if we weren’t meeting our scientific metrics, we changed our restoration plan.”
The real-world examples from different parts of the U.S. presented at the briefing demonstrated how research performed at field stations and marine labs can lead to economic benefits for coastal communities.