Coastal News from the Field: Adaptive Management of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

By Ellis Kalaidjian

This blog post is the first of a new monthly series, tentatively titled “Coastal News from the Field,” which highlights new coastal management/conservation-themed research that makes us tick. We are excited about this new development for the blog and encourage our readers to reach out to admin@thecoastalsociety.org with any research or topics they would like to see featured in this series.

This month, we highlight a study from a research team in Florida, titled “Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA,” as published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Coastal Management. The motivation for this work comes from the increasing vulnerability of estuaries to climate change impacts of salt-water intrusion from rising sea levels, hydrological regime changes, water temperature increases, and so forth. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) was designated as an Estuary of National Significance by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990 and, more recently, a Climate Ready Estuary in 2008, following a collaboration between the EPA and National Estuary Program in the form of the Climate Ready Estuaries Program.

Map of the IRL watershed (Source: EPA, 2004)
Aerial view of the IRL (Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2006)

The core objective of this research was to assess the vulnerability of the IRL’s management program to climate change and prescribe adaptive actions designed to improve the program’s efficacy and protect the estuary from further climate-change-induced impairment. The research team first compiled and reviewed a list of the program goals (e.g., “water quality” or “healthy communities”) within the IRL’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that were most likely at risk from climate change and the associated climate stressors jeopardizing those goals. The team then weighted each risk in a matrix based on parameters of consequence, likelihood, spatial scale, and timeline. A total of 472 risks were identified. Of those, 50% were associated with impacts to impaired waters, wastewater, and surface water. Nearly all (97%) of these risks were induced by three prevalent climate change stressors of altered precipitation regimes, increasing storminess, and sea-level rise.

From here, the research team was able to identify nine adaptation actions to mitigate water quality impairment caused by climate change. Each action focused on mitigating the major sources of elevated pollutant loadings anticipated to accompany climate change, including wastewater treatment plants, on-site treatment and disposal systems, and surface water storage and conveyance infrastructure; for example, one action was to create a GIS-based inventory of vulnerable infrastructure supporting the three systems. In addition, the team devised a five-step action plan that could be used to achieve each of the nine adaptation actions and proposed an integrated management regime based on the existing symbiosis between the state of Florida and the IRL National Estuary Program.

In the face of the emerging circumstances presented by climate change, it is paramount that we continually review and adapt the programs that we have instituted to protect our coastal resources. The research highlighted in this article showcases how adaptive management—a concept based in theory—can be operationalized to satisfy long-term conservation agendas. The study also demonstrates how vulnerability assessments can be used to prioritize and continually monitor program action areas that harmonize mutual interests of a diverse stakeholder network. Most importantly, the deliverables of this applied research have direct utility for future policymaking, community engagement initiatives, program financing, and other efforts that may otherwise have been hindered without recognition of the future management challenges posed by climate change.

Citation:
Parkinson, R. W., Seidel, V., Henderson, C., & De Freese, D. (2021). Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA. Coastal Management, 49(2), 215-232.

Marine Plastic Pollution from the Micro to Global Scale – A TCS Coastal Connections Discussion

By: Ashley Gordon and Steven MacLeod

As of 2015, it was estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean annually, which is about one garbage truckload of plastic per minute (Jambeck et al., 2015). This shocking statistic was shared to kick-off presentations at The Coastal Society’s November 12, 2020 Coastal Connections meeting, Plastic Pollution: Coastal and Marine Trends. Presentations from three panelists highlighted science, policy, and stakeholder engagement efforts related to coastal and marine plastic pollution. The session was moderated by Catherine Tobin, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston, whose research focuses on the effects of microfibers on oysters.

Nicholas Mallos provided an overview of the magnitude of the global plastic pollution issue. Mr. Mallos oversees the Ocean Conservancy’s global portfolio of work on marine debris as Senior Director of the Trash Free Seas Program. Even with current plastic reduction commitments from governments and industries, it is estimated about a cargo ship’s worth of plastics (by weight) will enter lakes, rivers, and our ocean daily by 2030, which equals about 53 million metric tons annually (Borrelle et al., 2020). Reducing plastic waste, increasing waste management efficiency, and expanding cleanup efforts are key actions recommended to reduce plastic pollution. This Ocean Conservancy video provides more information on recent plastic research, and Mr. Mallos’ presentation is available here.  

Fred Dobbs focused his presentation on microplastic pollution. Dr. Dobbs is a marine microbial ecologist and Chair of the Department of Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University. Microplastics (particles less than 5mm) can be manufactured, or result from the breakdown of larger plastics, and are ingested by marine organisms, including even deep-sea amphipods. Dr. Dobbs highlighted emerging research related to microplastics, including potential human health risks from eating raw oysters containing plastics harboring a pathogenic biofilm. Recent research has indicated marine plastics may disseminate antibiotic-resistance genes through biofilms, which serve as a habitat for bacteria and human pathogens. Dr. Dobbs presentation is available here.

Katherine Youngblood provided an overview of the Marine Debris Tracker app, a citizen-science, open-data initiative for collecting geospatial litter data. Ms. Youngblood is a Research Engineer at the University of Georgia New Materials Institute in the Jambeck Research Group and the Citizen Science Director of Marine Debris Tracker. This video provides more information on the Debris Tracker app, which has been used to collect data in multiple countries, including those along the Ganges River as part of the National Geographic Sea to Source expedition. A new Plastic Pollution Action Journal provides guidance for logging individual plastic-use and recommending actions to reduce plastic-use. Ms. Youngblood’s presentation is available here.

Following the guest speakers’ presentations, meeting participants posed questions related to the following topics:

  • Communicating the upstream impacts of plastic pollution.
  • Policies for addressing plastic pollution.
  • Recent trends in plastic pollution as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased personal protective equipment (PPE) waste.
  • Actions for citizen engagement, including reducing single-use plastics, researching local recycling programs, and talking to local officials.

For more information on other Coastal Connections sessions, including our recent February session focused on coastal communities and offshore wind development, check out the TCS Coastal Connections webpage. If you are interested in learning more or volunteering to help develop the Coastal Connections series, please email us at TCSconnections@thecoastalsociety.org.  

References:

S.B. Borrelle, J. Ringma, K. L. Law, C. C. Monnahan, L. Lebreton, A. McGivern, E. Murphy, J. Jambeck, G.H. Leonard, M. A. Hilleary, M. Eriksen, H. P. Possingham, H. De Frond, L. R. Gerber, B. Polidoro, A. Tahir, M. Bernard, N. Mallos, M. Barnes, C. M. Rochman, Predicted growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to mitigate plastic pollution. Science. 369, 1515-1518 (2020).

J.R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T. R. Sigler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. L. Law, Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347, 768-771 (2015).

Photo courtesy of Melanie Perello