Integrated risk and recovery monitoring of ecosystem restorations on contaminated sites

Hooper, M.J. et al. | Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management | 2016 | Peer Reviewed | Review |


Ecological restorations of contaminated sites balance the human and ecological risks of residual contamination with the benefits of ecological recovery and the return of lost ecological function and ecosystem services. Risk and recovery are interrelated dynamic conditions, changing as remediation and restoration activities progress through implementation into long-term management and ecosystem maturation. Monitoring restoration progress provides data critical to minimizing residual contaminant risk and uncertainty, while measuring ecological advancement toward recovery goals. Effective monitoring plans are designed concurrently with restoration plan development and implementation and are focused on assessing the effectiveness of activities performed in support of restoration goals for the site. Physical, chemical, and biotic measures characterize progress toward desired structural and functional ecosystem components of the goals. Structural metrics, linked to ecosystem functions and services, inform restoration practitioners of work plan modifications or more substantial adaptive management actions necessary to maintain desired recovery. Monitoring frequency, duration, and scale depend on specific attributes and goals of the restoration project. Often tied to restoration milestones, critical assessment of monitoring metrics ensures attainment of risk minimization and ecosystem recovery. Finally, interpretation and communication of monitoring findings inform and engage regulators, other stakeholders, the scientific community, and the public. Because restoration activities will likely cease before full ecosystem recovery, monitoring endpoints should demonstrate risk reduction and a successional trajectory toward the condition established in the restoration goals. A detailed assessment of the completed project’s achievements, as well as unrealized objectives, attained through project monitoring, will determine if contaminant risk has been minimized, if injured resources have recovered, and if ecosystem services have been returned. Such retrospective analysis will allow better planning for future restoration goals and strengthen the evidence base for quantifying injuries and damages at other sites in the future.