What is marine coastal ecological restoration?

What is marine coastal ecological restoration?

Human activities, as well as climatic disasters, are degrading natural habitats, which negatively impacts the entire ecosystem (i.e., the habitat and its associated living organisms of which humans are a part). Such a damaged ecosystem can return to its native state if a restoration program is implemented. This recovery can happen faster and be more effective if the damage to the ecosystem is not too important. For example, a mangrove forest can be replanted after deforestation caused by its use in firewood. Moreover, a damaged seagrass meadow can be restored by transplantation of plants from a different location. More generally, the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER, 2004) has defined ecological restoration as a process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed.

Figure 1: Transplantation of Cymodocea a seagrass specie.

The importance of ecological restoration

Ecological restoration projects are now coming to the forefront of sustainable development issues such that the United Nations (UN) has declared the current decade (2021-2030) as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. At the same time, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme(UNEP), in partnership with 10 African and Asian countries, have joined forces to create The Restoration Initiative (TRI), with the aim of bridging the gap between restoration ambition and tangible progress on the ground.” The Society for Ecological Restoration has further defined 8 principles to guide the implementation of restoration projects. Each project must involve all of the chosen ecosystem’s stakeholders and therefore rely on various knowledge sources (i.e., practitioner knowledge, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Local Ecological Knowledge, and scientific discovery). The project must build on reference ecosystems while accounting for environmental changes and thus support the natural restoration processes of the ecosystem. In addition, the project must be evaluated against clear objectives using measurable indices, allowing the highest level of restoration to be targeted. Finally, the restoration action must gain cumulative value when applied on a large scale and thus be part of a continuum of restorative activities. If this last principle is followed in addition to the other ones, ecological restoration could then also be considered a Nature-based Solution as it contributes to protecting biodiversity and improving human wellbeing when implemented effectively and sustainably.

Figure 2 : The eight principles for Ecological Restoration (SER, 2019)

The challenges we need to address

One of the main challenges in restoration projects is to define the historical baseline towards which the restoration tends. Moreover, it is difficult to achieve a large scale or real continuum due to the large anthropization of Nature. This is all even more true in coastal marine habitats, where restoration technics are also less advanced due to the technological challenge the marine environment often represent.

As ecological restoration can be defined as a Nature-based Solution under certain condition develop above, the MaCoBioS project will consider ecological restoration as a possible solution in its way to propose different kind of Nature-based Solution to conserve, manage and restore marine coastal area in a climate change situation.

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What are Nature-Based Solutions ?

What are Nature-Based Solutions ?

The Nature-based Solution concept

Our societies are currently facing many challenges. Some are not new, such as food and water security, while others, more recent, are more directly linked to human activities, such as climate change. In this context, Nature-based Solutions, or NbS, provide solutions to these societal challenges by relying on what nature already provides. Several approaches that combine protection, management, and restoration of ecosystems already exist. The key novelty of the NbS concept is that such approaches must be beneficial to biodiversity while improving human well-being. For example, a mangrove forest fixes the coastline and thus protects it from possible flooding (which risk increases due to climate change), but it can also sequester four times more carbon than a rainforest per unit area. Therefore, protected, managed, or restored mangroves can help to mitigate and adapt to climate change. In addition, co-benefits in terms of biodiversity occur by providing habitat for numerous marine and terrestrial species.

Figure 1: Definition of NbS: From IUCN. (2020). Guidance for using the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions: a user-friendly framework for the verification, design and scaling u of NbS. Source: https://doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.CH.2020.08.en

The term NbS was clearly defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)[1] and the European Union (EU)[2] in an effort to bring together all ecosystem-related approaches already meeting this dual purpose of benefiting biodiversity and human well-being to answer to a societal challenge. This term is thus intended as an umbrella term.

What makes a Nature-based Solution?

The IUCN has defined 7 societal challenges to which NbS must respond: (1) climate change mitigation and adaptation, (2) food security, (3) water security, (4) disaster risk reduction, (5) human health, (6) economic and social development, and (7) environment degradation and biodiversity loss. In 2020, the IUCN has also published global standards that allow characterising protection, management, and restoration actions as NbS through 8 criteria. These criteria include the need to address at least one of the above societal challenges, as well as the benefit to biodiversity and human well-being through sustainable management and implementation. An NbS must also be designed at a large spatial (generally defined as land‑, freshwater- and seascape) and temporal scale (several decades) in partnership with all stakeholders for inclusive, sustainable, and integrated governance. In addition, this solution must be economically feasible and the positive effects quickly observable, but can also be adaptive, which makes its strength. Taking the example of a salt marsh that needs to be managed to limit the risk of flooding, one possible action is to plant and facilitate the development of vegetation capable of regulating the water flow. However, depending on the plant species, the growth of the plants can be more or less long. In this context, artificial management of the water flow can be set up so that positive effects on the scale of the first year can be observed while waiting for the natural action of the vegetation to be effective. Finally, to be recognised as an NbS, the effectiveness of the actions implemented and any land-use planning developed should be measurable. In this context, it is imperative to have tools capable of assessing the effectiveness of an NbS. These tools must be developed around scientific studies, based on in-depth knowledge of ecosystems and their services, as well as the links between biodiversity and environmental health in contexts of varying anthropic pressures. Further research is also needed to understand better the interconnection between biodiversity, climate change and provided services within ecosystems to recommend actions that could be an effective NbS in a specific area. 

Figure 2: The 8 criteria of the global standards for NbS published by the IUCN: From IUCN. (2020). Guidance for using the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions: a user-friendly framework for the verification, design and scaling u of NbS. Source: https://doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.CH.2020.08.en

The way ahead for marine and coastal Nature-based Solutions

NbS can apply to both natural and modified ecosystems (such as urban areas). Currently, most NbS have been identified in urban and terrestrial environments and agriculture sector, while natural marine environments and their specificities are less considered and very few NbS have been recorded. One of the main reasons is that it is more challenging to implement and then evaluate out of sight large-scale actions in the ocean. The lack of basic knowledge on ecological responses to marine ecosystem-based approaches in terms of ecosystem service provision or biodiversity gain is also an obstacle to proposing relevant NbS in the marine context. MaCoBioS thus aims to address these knowledge gaps and disseminate the principles and purpose of NbS to coastal marine ecosystems’ stakeholders.

[1] “Nature-based Solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits. They are underpinned by benefits that flow from healthy ecosystems and target major challenges like climate change, disaster risk reduction, food and water security, health and are critical to economic development.” Source: https://www.iucn.org/theme/nature-based-solutions/about

[2] The Commission defines nature-based solutions as: “Solutions that are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions.” Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/research-area/environment/nature-based-solutions_en

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