07. What is the Baseline? Developing Research and Monitoring Efforts in Near-Pristine Marine Ecosystems to Measure Global Change
Coordinator/Moderator: Dr. Healy Hamilton, Director, Center for Applied Biodiversity Informatics, California Academy of Sciences
Dr. Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair in Marine Science, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Dr. Lance Morgan, Vice President for Science, Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Andrew Gude, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Liaison to the Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife and Parks
Dr. Enric Sala, Fellow, National Geographic
Dr. Rusty Brainard, Chief, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, Supervisory Oceanographer, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (Invited)
Most of the world’s marine ecosystems have undergone dramatic shifts in community structure as a result of human activities. In addition to physical disturbance such as dredging, destructive fishing practices, and pollution, the majority of apex predators have been removed, leading to a cascade of impacts, such as changes in species composition, biomass, and capacity to recover from disturbance.
To understand how human impacts affect marine ecosystems, and in turn, to guide their restoration and management for resilience to global change, it is essential for scientists to conduct research in near pristine environments that offer baseline assessments of species composition, abundance, interactions, and ecology. In addition, monitoring efforts in relatively unimpacted systems provide critical metrics of ecosystem response to global change that are not confounded by cumulative stressors from other human-mediated impacts. Ecological theory suggests that intact marine ecosystems support higher biomass, a higher rate of production of new biomass, and provide greater resilience to disturbance. These theories have important consequences for fisheries management and ecological restoration efforts, yet data to test these hypotheses almost always originate from systems no longer representative of baseline.
In the tropical U.S. Pacific, the four recently-established Marine National Monuments (including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Palmyra Atoll) are home to near pristine marine ecosystems. The goals of federal protection of these areas as National Monuments were:  to assure preservation of these uniquely intact ecosystems for future generations; and,  to provide much-needed access to baseline marine habitats (i.e., those with no local human impacts) as areas for research informing management efforts of marine ecosystems worldwide. The pathway toward preservation is clear and consistent with management efforts from land-based National Parks and other wild lands. However, the research agenda is less-well developed. It is essential that we build a coherent and coordinated vision for learning from these remote areas of the U.S. Pacific, capitalizing on their potential to support research and monitoring on the composition, structure, function and behavior of intact systems. In these locations, unique opportunities exist to test hypotheses of the relationships between community structure and ecosystem function, especially resilience of coral reef ecosystems to global change.
Increased collaboration among the private-public stakeholder partnerships required to fully develop the appropriate research and management strategies.
Develop a foundation for a coordinated and prioritized research and monitoring strategies focused on near-pristine ecosystems.
Recommendations that highlight the value, and set priorities for coordinated research and monitoring efforts across the few locations where the footprint of human activity is still minimal.
DRAFT RECOMMENDATIONS – Prepared by breakout groups and subject to review. These recommendations are the result of group processes and do not necessarily represent that positions of NCSE, which served as the enabler of the process that generated the recommendations.
Task 1. A part of implementing the National Ocean Policy, the Department of Interior (DOI) should develop an Oceans and Climate Change Initiative to coordinate agency activities to collectively and collaboratively manage the 1.76 billion acres of marine area under DOI jurisdiction.
Task 2. Federal agencies that fund formal and informal science education should emphasize programs that utilize existing protected areas to offer field experience, hands-on data collection, opportunities to gain interdisciplinary perspectives, and that contribute to time-series observations of global change.
Task 3. The DOI, as part of implementation of the National Ocean Policy, should emphasize greater public awareness of the importance of remaining, intact marine ecosystems, through expanded management, outreach and education programs.
Task 4. All federal agencies should use existing authorities to enhance and expand public-private partnerships in support of research, monitoring, management, and education of protected areas.
Task 5. All federal agencies should use existing authorities to prioritize and maximize law enforcement of protected areas, with an emphasis on improving use of innovative technologies for remote regions.
Task 6. Federal agencies should use existing authorities to identify and expand additional regions for enhanced conservation to increase the representation of ecosystems under protection.
Task 7. Federal agencies should receive sufficient funding resources to carry out their legal mandates. This includes increased support for infrastructure, monitoring, management, applied science, restoration, and education.
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