Mni Wiconi! Water is Life! Our cover photo for this special issue on river ecosystems was donated by Franck Vogel – a freelance photographer and author of Fleuves Frontières. This photo of life in the Mekong River valley shows the poignant connection between healthy coastal systems and human livelihoods. In this special issue of The Solutions Journal, we take an in-depth scientific look at the challenges facing rivers, wetlands, estuaries, and their ecosystems.
Rising sea levels and increasing storm intensity have placed tremendous stress on coastal ecosystems. Coupled with human encroachment and alteration of these environments, many coastal waterways and the species they support require innovative technological and ecological approaches to restoration and recovery.
The Feature articles in this issue of Solutions present the best available insights into managing today’s stressed coastal regions. And, like all good science, their articles do not present easy answers. Human-Environment interactions create conflicts over the desire to expand human settlements and the need to prevent ecosystem collapse. Crucial ecosystem services stem from healthy coastal water systems, such as flood abatement, supportive environments for oyster growth, and protection of coastal communities from erosion. The need to protect these increasingly fragile ecosystems is more urgent than ever.
In some cases, restoration and recovery of coastal systems is impossible, either due to long-term neglect or threshold changes caused by climate change. In these cases, scientists and practitioners struggle with the best approaches to preserve essential water services. Climate change often causes non-linear changes in flora and fauna distribution. Is it wise to remove exogenous plant life, for example, when it is likely better suited to contemporary conditions than indigenous species? Is it best to release dam waters to maintain wetland aesthetics or to allow wet-dry hydrological cycles to perpetuate historic wildlife patterns. Of course, the answer to these questions is “It depends,” and our authors masterfully help us to navigate these complex questions in practical ways, illustrating the cost-benefit analyses of various approaches.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing natural resource managers in coastal regions is the sometimes vastly different priorities that influence decision makers in these regions. Coastal ecosystems are not isolated from the human communities they support. Communities and their bioregions interact in important ways, because they are in fact one system. While this issue’s Feature articles illustrate the incredible complexities involved in managing coastal ecosystems, the Perspective articles present the more human side of water management decisions and the human consequences of poor coastal management choices.
Two pieces specifically address the challenges of stormwater management. Williams argues that the construction of a rain harvesting stormwater utility is a valuable means to achieve flood abatement during rain events. By catching rain from rooftops, pollutant flows are reduced, and an emergency water reserve can be created. Local authorities often resist rooftop catchment systems because the decentralized nature of the system is difficult to evaluate and manage. However, Hull and Brown highlight an impressive example of a stormwater management partnership model known as a community-based public-private partnership. Their case study describes such a partnership in Maryland where the members collaborated to supply innovative stormwater management solutions, generate jobs, and engage local citizens. A similar partnership model is proposed by Bonilla as a way to increase resilience in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria – this time with the higher education system serving as the hub of a series of transparent and accountable public-private partnerships that advance technical and social evolutions across the island.
This incredible collection of articles has certainly educated me about the challenges of managing coastal ecosystems in the era of the Anthropocene. While easy solutions do not exist to completely abate these challenges, our contributors provide practical guidance for evaluating the costs and benefits of contemporary state-of-the-art approaches. Their insights make a valuable contribution to students and practitioners alike.