Engaging coastal community members about natural and nature-based solutions to assess their ecosystem function

Baustian, M. et al | Ecological Engineering: X | 2020 | Peer Reviewed | Original research | https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoena.2019.100015


Hazards in coastal ecosystems, such as flooding and land loss, demand natural and nature-based solutions from local communities due to the protective and non-protective services they provide when compared with traditionally engineered approaches. In this context, natural solutions are those that consider conserving existing habitats whereas nature-based solutions are those created by humans. These solutions support important coastal ecosystem functions, such as nutrient uptake, fisheries habitat, soil carbon storage, and surge attenuation. Our main research questions were: (1) Based on community engagement, what are the possible natural and nature-based solutions to address coastal hazards in Breton Sound Estuary, Louisiana? and (2) How do these community co-designed nature-based solutions support various ecosystem functions? To help answer these questions, we leveraged the competency group methodology to incorporate the local needs and traditional ecological knowledge of community stakeholders into collaborative ecosystem modelling. In total, fifteen members regularly met five times over an eight-month period to design nature-based solutions to address coastal hazards. Two nature-based solutions, created marshes and restored ridges, were identified most frequently by the competency group (>75% occurrence) in a final survey. Associated ecosystem functions of the identified solutions were assessed with simulation models to determine future ecosystem functions of nutrient uptake, fisheries habitat, soil carbon storage, and surge attenuation after 20 years. By adding created marshes to an ecosystem, our model results indicate slight increases in nutrient uptake, likely increases to fisheries habitat and soil carbon storage capacity, as well as storm surge attenuation in some areas following ridge restoration. Quantifying these ecosystem functions with management actions has been limited and is needed to assess how natural and nature-based solutions impact local communities and resource users. This novel approach to modeling ecosystem-based solutions through a collaborative modeling process with researchers and residents can be applied elsewhere to assess the viability of natural and nature-based solutions.