Runoff from upstream, land-based pollutants jeopardizes the ocean's coral reefs and adversely impacts the production of goods and services critical to many coastal residents. But how do you address a challenge that spans both land and sea? A recent study, published in the Journal of Environmental Management and part of the larger Ocean Tipping Points project, found that cooperation among landowners to reduce sediment runoff to nearshore reefs leads to more cost efficient and ecologically effective results compared to scenarios when landowners act independently. The research team compared the costs and benefits of seven agricultural road repair management scenarios that differed in the way decisions were made (cooperatively or independently) and type of road repair (minimizing costs, minimizing sediment, or both).
"Managers are always striving to make the most of their limited budgets. We used simple methods to identify cost-effective solutions to address erosion from unpaved agricultural roads – a problem common to many areas in Hawaiʻi and elsewhere."
- Kirsten Oleson, Lead Author
Environmental benefits for the lowest economic cost were highest when landowners cooperated and targeted cost-effective road repairs. The benefits of cooperation, however, were not seen when cost-effectiveness was ignored. These findings are critical in helping land managers make better choices about allocating limited resources and understanding how best to minimize coral reef ecosystem threats.
The reefs and watersheds of Hawai'i's West Maui region, where the study took place, are recognized as needing special protection by multiple state and federal programs because of their degraded state due in part to land-based pollutants. Coral cover in this region's northern reefs has dramatically declined from 30% to 10% between 2000 and 2015.
Upstream solutions to coral reef conservation: The payoffs of smart and cooperative decision-making
Oleson, K.L., Falinski, K.A., Lecky, J., Rowe, C., Kappel, C.V., Selkoe, K.A., White, C.
Journal of Environmental Management, January 2017, doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2016.12.067