Kent, OH In his recent Ohio Sea Grant-funded survey of aquatic ecosystem managers, Researcher Dr. Greg Wilson found that public outreach is an essential element of protecting an aquatic ecosystem. Using the survey results as a guide, Wilson created an improved management model for Lake Erie that centralizes leadership and outreach efforts.
"We found that educating citizens can be just as effective as passing legislation," says Wilson, Associate Vice President at Kent State University. "If people are wondering about the necessity and importance of efforts that educate the public, the answer is, Very Important. We would say Ohio Sea Grant’s outreach work performs not only an interesting service, but an essential service for Lake Erie management."
The survey, which looked at Lake Erie and four other aquatic ecosystems, found ten characteristics that successful ecosystem management plans must include. They are:
- Public engagement
- Communication among stakeholders
- Incentives for collaboration
- Diverse facilitators
- Measurable goals
- Science-based decisions
- Occasionally necessary mandates
- Adaptive planning
- Sustainable funding
Several benefits grow from public engagement-people learn about how things work, they become advocates for the work, and they can pressure legislators to improve the ecosystem.
"Public engagement is a critical attribute of successful ecosystem management so people can get educated and then help diverse groups bridge their disconnects," Wilson says. "If people aren’t up on the science or don’t have a direct connection with the environment, they’re not inclined to get involved and help preserve the ecosystem."
Wilson’s new management model for Lake Erie proposes more mandated parameters to create clear goals, collaborative planning, and central leadership. He suggests that a bi-national leadership organization facilitate the lake’s management and coordinate the public outreach. The organization would need to wield strong influence on lake management, either by legislative mandate or voluntary public pressure.
The ecosystems Wilson surveyed use an Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) philosophy, which accounts for variables beyond science, such as economic and societal impacts. While many management approaches consider humans outsiders to the environment, EBM takes into account the environmental implications of human decisions. Lake Erie and several other large water bodies have adopted broad ecosystem management over the last 20 years.
"For many years, we managed systems one species or one element at a time, but more and more we’re learning you have to manage the entire ecosystem," says Jeff Reutter, Director of Ohio Sea Grant. "As more ecosystems implement an EBM approach, studies like this certainly will help us to know what works and what doesn’t work and that allows us to include characteristics that make other ecosystems successful in our own plans."
Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant program is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 32 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For information on Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu.
To learn more about this Ohio Sea Grant-funded research, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu/products/zbhdi/twine-line-spring-summer-2011.
Dr. Greg Wilson
Associate Vice President, University Relations, Kent State University