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    Communicating and Understanding Ecosystem Services Assessment With Coastal Stakeholders: Obstacles and Opportunities
    (Frontiers in Communication, 2021-05-12) DeLorme, Denise E.; Stephens, Sonia H.; Collini, Renee C.; Yoskowitz, David; Hagen, Scott C.
    This paper reports on insights and lessons learned from stakeholder engagement, particularly focus groups, conducted during a multi-year, NOAA-sponsored transdisciplinary project. A major project goal was to demonstrate and communicate benefits of natural and nature-based features (NNBFs) (e.g., barrier islands, dunes, and marshes) in the northern Gulf of Mexico region through the lens of economic impacts and ecosystem services. Overall, the findings indicate economic impacts and ecosystem services can be challenging topics to communicate because of complexity in conceptualization and valuation. From our experiences, we recommend using “ecosystem services assessment” (ESA), a more encompassing, accurate, and understandable term to stakeholders. ESA recognizes the integrated human (or built) and natural ecosystem and holistic benefits provided by and to both. The paper concludes with a discussion of future research opportunities for improving ESA-oriented science and outreach.
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    Pricing Options on Water in Texas
    (Texas Water Journal, 2021-08-10) McColly, Quinn; Mace, Robert; Tissot, Philippe; Yoskowitz, David
    Freshwater scarcity is a growing concern in Texas and the issues that surround it are expected to grow in the coming years. As climate change impacts the variability of precipitation patterns, some of the most useful tools to help allocate this precious, limited resource may be the tools that are most adaptable in the face of growing uncertainty. While market mechanisms are budding in the state, another market-based tool can create opportunities for efficient water allocation among stakeholders: the water option. An option is a financial product that provides a vehicle to interested parties (buyers and sellers) to create a contract that formalizes the terms of the possible future delivery of water. In cash markets for resources, the exchange of cash and the resource happens when the trade is made; in options markets, the flexibility of delivery is amplified considerably, making them useful for mitigating risk. The buyer of the contract is securing the right—not the obligation—to buy a specific amount of a resource, by a specific time, for a defined price and has the ability to decide if and when the contract gets exercised over the term of the contract. This work discusses the utility of these contracts and outlines a method to price them.
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    Focused Flows to Maintain Natural Nursery Habitats
    (Texas Water Journal, 2021-09-27) Montagna, Paul A.; McKinney, Larry D.; Yoskowitz, David
    Regulatory standards for environmental flows to estuaries are not common, but they are required in Texas. This has led to adoption of complex freshwater inflow regimes that reflect seasonal and yearly fluctuations that vary geographically throughout the state. The flow regimes are based on dilution of saline water with fresh water in whole systems. Because the estuaries are large lagoons, large volumes of fresh water are required to meet standards. However, this volume of water is not available during dry periods. We present a new concept, focused flows, for lower flow volumes that would maintain the ecological health of the upper reaches of estuaries during droughts. The concept is based on maintaining ecological integrity of nursery habitats, which is an important ecological function of estuaries. These focused flows would protect nursery habitats during droughts and allow estuaries to recover more quickly when the hydrology returns to average or higher flow periods. This approach could be applied globally where increasing water infrastructure and deficits are a concern or increasing aridity due to climate change is reducing river flows to coasts.
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    Future Flood Risk Exacerbated by the Dynamic Impacts of Sea Level Rise Along the Northern Gulf of Mexico
    (Earth's Future, 2022-03-30) Bilskie, Matthew V.; Del Angel, Diana; Yoskowitz, David; Hagen, Scott C.
    A growing concern of coastal communities is increased flood risk and non-monetary consequences due to climate-induced impacts such as sea level rise (SLR). Previous efforts have discussed the importance of future flood risk quantification using broad aggregations of monetary loss with “bathtub” SLR models rather than more physically based modeling approaches. Here we quantify actual impacts to coastal communities at the census block level using a dynamic, high-resolution, bio geophysical modeling framework for four SLR scenarios for the year 2100. This framework accounts for future sea-levels, landscape change, and urbanization to quantify the 1% and 0.2% annual exceedance probability (AEP) water levels. The computed AEP water levels were used to quantify building damage and populations of displaced people and people requiring long-term shelter across the Northern Gulf of Mexico (NGOM) (Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle). The increase in damaged buildings under SLR is linear, with an increase of 16,367 damaged buildings per 1 m of SLR (R2 = 0.96) for the 1% AEP flood. The rate increases to 24,981 damaged buildings per 1 m of SLR (R2 = 0.96) for the 0.2% AEP, on average. The increase in displaced people across the NGOM is 8,056 people per meter of SLR, and people requiring shelter is 300 per meter of SLR. The results in this work highlight the varying levels of risk across the NGOM and the change in risk under climate change-induced impacts.
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    Role and Value of Nitrogen Regulation Provided by Oysters (Crassostrea virginica) in the Mission-Aransas Estuary, Texas, USA
    (PLoS ONE, 2013-06-06) Pollack, Jennifer Beseres; Yoskowitz, David; Kim, Hae-Cheol; Montagna, Paul A.
    Suspension-feeding activities of oysters impart a potentially significant benefit to estuarine ecosystems via reduction of water column nutrients, plankton and seston biomass, and primary productivity which can have a significant impact on human well-being. This study considered nitrogen regulation by eastern oysters Crassostrea virginica in the Mission-Aransas Estuary, Texas, USA, as a function of denitrification, burial, and physical transport from the system via harvest. Oyster reefs were estimated to remove 502.5 kg N km−2 through denitrification of biodeposits and 251.3 kg N km−2 in burial of biodeposits to sediments. Nitrogen is also physically transported out of the estuary via harvest of oysters. Commercial harvest of oysters in the Mission-Aransas Estuary can remove approximately 21,665 kg N per year via physical transport from the system. We developed a transferable method to value the service of nitrogen regulation by oysters, where the potential cost equivalent value of nitrogen regulation is quantified via cost estimates for a constructed biological nutrient removal (BNR) supplement to a wastewater treatment plant. The potential annual engineered cost equivalent of the service of nitrogen regulation and removal provided by reefs in the Mission-Aransas Estuary is $293,993 yr−1. Monetizing ecosystem services can help increase awareness at the stakeholder level of the importance of oysters beyond commercial fishery values alone.
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    Economic Impact of Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Goods and Services and Integration Into Restoration Decision-Making
    (Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium of Alabama, 2013) Shepard, Andrew N.; Valentine, John F.; D'Elia, Christopher F.; Yoskowitz, David; Dismukes, David E.
    Sustainability of natural resources requires balancing exploitation and conservation, enabled by management based on the best available scientific and economic information. Valuation of ecosystem goods and services is an important tool for prioritizing restoration efforts, recognizing the economic importance of conserving natural capital, and raising public awareness about the contribution of healthy ecosystems to social welfare, now and for future generations. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DHOS) in 2010 was a Gulf of Mexico ecological and economic disaster adding to decades-long degradation of the region’s coastal and marine environment. In 2010, revenues from provisioning ecosystem goods and services generated by the five U.S. states bordering the Gulf of Mexico contributed over $2 trillion per year to the nation’s gross domestic product, including $660 billion from the coastal county revenues and $110 billion from ocean revenues. Mexico and Cuba contribute at least another $40 billion per year from their Gulf coastal and ocean economies. Total economic value of Gulf ecosystem goods and services also requires valuation of nonmarket regulating, cultural, and supporting services, which are far more difficult to assess, but add billions more dollars per year. In light of this total economic value and trends in ecosystem stressors, new investment is necessary to ensure completeness, accuracy, and availability of Gulf economic impact data. Civil and criminal settlements related to the DHOS provide unprecedented opportunities for improving integration of ecosystem goods and services into decisions that affect Gulf restoration and sustainability. This paper highlights the economic contributions of Gulf ecosystem goods and services to the nation’s welfare, and recommends actions and investments required to ensure that they are valued, and integrated into decision-making.
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    Gulf of Mexico offshore ecosystem services: Relative valuation by stakeholders
    (Science Direct, 2015-07-26) Yoskowitz, David; Werner, Sandra R.; Carollo, Cristina; Santos, Carlota; Washburn, Travis; Isaksen, Gary H.
    While efforts to integrate ecosystem services into the management of coastal and terrestrial systems continue to advance, similar efforts for deepwater environments are still in the early stages of deliberation. To begin closing this gap, two workshops were held to engage participants in a discussion on ecosystem services provided by the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, and to facilitate the relative ranking of offshore ecosystem services using a non-monetary valuation scheme. Both workshops relied on a balanced representation of ocean users from multiple industry sectors, government and non-government organizations with interests in the deepwater Gulf. The following findings were made: (1) participants recognized the benefit of being able to rank multiple ecosystem services rather than limiting their attention to those services that were closely related to their respective constituents׳ interests; (2) both workshops yielded similar results, with food, raw materials (including hydrocarbons), and recreation being among the top three ranked ecosystem services; (3) participants in both workshops distinguished between direct (provisioning and cultural) and indirect (regulating and supporting) services; (4) there was a preference among participants to focus on ranking the direct services; and (5) participants of the workshops expressed that the role of the indirect services needed to be considered when designing monitoring and/or mitigation measures to protect the sustainability of the direct services. These results can be used in future discussions to further vet the viability of using such a non-monetary valuation scheme to assist in guiding the development or implementation of scientific and socio-economic indicators to monitor and maintain the health of ecosystem services in order to try to meet stakeholder needs.
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    Evolving academic culture to meet societal needs
    (Springer Nature, 2017-11-21) Wowk, Kateryna; McKinney, Larry; Muller-Karger, Frank; Moll, Russell; Avery, Susan; Escobar-Briones, Elva; Yoskowitz, David; McLaughlin, Richard
    Given today’s complex societal challenges, academia should work better with government, industry and others in offering innovative solutions that benefit our society, economy and environment. Researchers across disciplines must work together and with decision-makers to understand how science can have better on-the-ground impacts toward longer-term, resilient societal outcomes. This includes, for example, by working with end-users in problem formation and throughout research projects to ensure decision-making needs are being met, and by linking physical science to additional fields like economics, risk communication or psychology. However, persistent barriers to collaborating across disciplines and with external decision-makers remain. Despite decades of studies highlighting the need for interdisciplinary research and science for decision-making, academic institutions are still not structured to facilitate or reward such collaboration. A group of researchers and educators used a mixed-methods approach to consider the knowledge base on interdisciplinary research and evidence-based policymaking, as well as their own experiences, and formed targeted and actionable recommendations that can help academia overcome these barriers. Their recommendations, specifically targeted to administrators, institutional leads, individual researchers, and research funders, align to three categories: define the role of academia in linking to policy; incorporate nontraditional standards in evaluating success; and build trust while drawing the line between knowledge dissemination and activism. By implementing the following recommendations, academics can foster the culture change that is needed to promote interdisciplinarity, strengthen the impact of their work and help society address urgent and multi-faceted problems.
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    Valuing Nature Waste Removal in the Offshore Environment Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
    (Frontiers in Marine Science, 2018-12-10) Washburn, Travis W.; Yoskowitz, David; Montagna, Paul A.
    The offshore and deep-sea marine environment provides many ecosystem services (i.e., benefits to humans), for example: climate regulation, exploitable resources, processes that enable life on Earth, and waste removal. Unfortunately, the remote nature of this environment makes it difficult to estimate the values of these services. One service in particular, waste removal, was examined in the context of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Nearly 5 million barrels of oil were released into the offshore Gulf of Mexico, and 14 billion dollars were spent removing about 25% of the oil spilled. Using values for oil spill cleanup efforts, which included capping the wellhead and collecting oil, surface combustion, and surface skimming, it was calculated that waste removal, i.e., natural removal of spilled oil, saved BP over $35 billion. This large amount demonstrates the costs of offshore disasters, the importance of the offshore environment to humans, as well as the large monetary values associated with ecosystem services provided.
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    Transnational research for coastal wetlands conservation in a Cuba–US setting
    (Cambridge University Press, 2020-07-15) Ramenzoni, Victoria C.; Besonen, Mark R.; Yoskowitz, David; Sánchez, Vanessa Vázquez; Rivero, Armando Rangel; González-Díaz, Patricia; Méndez, Armando Falcón; Escuela, Daily Borroto; Ramos, Idania Hernández; López, Norgis Valentín Hernández; McKinney, Larry
    Sharing information between different countries is key for developing sustainable solutions to environmental change. Coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico are suffering significant environmental and human-related threats. Working across national boundaries, this research project brings together scientists, specialists and local communities from Cuba and the USA. While important advances have been made in strengthening collaborations, important obstacles remain in terms of international policy constraints, different institutional and academic cultures and technology. Overcoming these limitations is essential to formulating a comprehensive understanding of the challenges that coastal socioecological systems are facing now and into the future.
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    Framework for a Community Health Observing System for the Gulf of Mexico Region: Preparing for Future Disasters
    (Frontiers in Public Health, 2020-10-15) Sandifer, Paul; Knapp, Landon; Lichtveld, Maureen; Manley, Ruth; Abramson, David; Caffey, Rex; Cochran, David; Collier, Tracy; Ebi, Kristie; Engel, Lawrence; Farrington, John; Finucane, Melissa; Hale, Christine; Halpern, David; Harville, Emily; Hart, Leslie; Hswen, Yulin; Kirkpatrick, Barbara; McEwen, Bruce; Morris, Glenn; Orbach, Raymond; Palinkas, Lawrence; Partyka, Melissa; Porter, Dwayne; Prather, Aric A.; Rowles, Teresa; Scott, Geoffrey; Seeman, Teresa; Solo-Gabriele, Helena; Svendsen, Erik; Tincher, Terry; Trtanj, Juli; Walker, Ann Hayward; Yehuda, Rachel; Yip, Fuyuen; Yoskowitz, David; Singer, Burton
    The Gulf of Mexico (GoM) region is prone to disasters, including recurrent oil spills, hurricanes, floods, industrial accidents, harmful algal blooms, and the current COVID-19 pandemic. The GoM and other regions of the U.S. lack sufficient baseline health information to identify, attribute, mitigate, and facilitate prevention of major health effects of disasters. Developing capacity to assess adverse human health consequences of future disasters requires establishment of a comprehensive, sustained community health observing system, similar to the extensive and well-established environmental observing systems. We propose a system that combines six levels of health data domains, beginning with three existing, national surveys and studies plus three new nested, longitudinal cohort studies. The latter are the unique and most important parts of the system and are focused on the coastal regions of the five GoM States. A statistically representative sample of participants is proposed for the new cohort studies, stratified to ensure proportional inclusion of urban and rural populations and with additional recruitment as necessary to enroll participants from particularly vulnerable or under-represented groups. Secondary data sources such as syndromic surveillance systems, electronic health records, national community surveys, environmental exposure databases, social media, and remote sensing will inform and augment the collection of primary data. Primary data sources will include participant-provided information via questionnaires, clinical measures of mental and physical health, acquisition of biological specimens, and wearable health monitoring devices. A suite of biomarkers may be derived from biological specimens for use in health assessments, including calculation of allostatic load, a measure of cumulative stress. The framework also addresses data management and sharing, participant retention, and system governance. The observing system is designed to continue indefinitely to ensure that essential pre-, during-, and post-disaster health data are collected and maintained. It could also provide a model/vehicle for effective health observation related to infectious disease pandemics such as COVID-19. To our knowledge, there is no comprehensive, disaster-focused health observing system such as the one proposed here currently in existence or planned elsewhere. Significant strengths of the GoM Community Health Observing System (CHOS) are its longitudinal cohorts and ability to adapt rapidly as needs arise and new technologies develop.