A Holistic Science Approach to Living within Coastal Ecosystems in Boston Harbor and Beyond
Coastal areas, potentially among the most productive global environments, are also among the most vulnerable to anthropogenic and natural stressors. Coastal urban environments in particular are changing rapidly, largely due to human activities. Ever increasing demands on coastal urban systems for alternative energy, resource utilization, and development are occurring at the same time as coasts face climate-related pressures such as sea level rise and increasing frequency and severity of storm events. In the face of these challenges, the level of coastal degradation globally, including declines in fisheries, salt marshes and subaquatic vegetation (SAV) suggests that current coastal management practices run counter to natural ecosystem functioning and resiliency. Why?
How might we manage more effectively, recognizing that “the environment sets the limits” for human activities and sustainability? This study examines selected lessons learned in coastal management and related fields and offers as an alternative a holistic science approach that we are currently testing as part of the Green Boston Harbor Project (GBH). GBH defines a “green urban harbor” to be a harbor that is managed within environmental limitations, recognizes strength in ecological and human diversities, and supports local and place-specific economic production within a regional and global context. This approach includes a recognition of the importance of “listening to nature,” the inclusion of both analytic and intuitive, organic knowledge in gathering and sharing environmental information, and an adaptive research strategy that retains flexibility for responding to uncertainties and changes. It is hoped it will provide educators and managers with an additional set of tools for teaching ecoliteracy, and to better meet a broad long term vision of integrating human activities more seamlessly within a coastal area’s physical, chemical, and biological cycles.
||Environment Sets the Limits, Holistic Science, Green Boston Harbor, Ecoliteracy, and Coastal Management
The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.197-212.
Article: Print (Spiral Bound).
Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.489MB).
Assistant Professor, Environmental Earth and Ocean Sciences Department, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA, USA
My work in coastal and marine ecosystems is based on the premise that “the environment sets the limits” for human interactions with coastal ecosystems. This means that the functions and resiliencies of ecosystems underlie human social and economic activities, not the other way around, as has often been assumed to the detriment of both human and other living systems. Ecosystems have remarkable powers of resiliency; as long as the basic processes are not irreversibly upset, ecosystems will continue to recycle and distribute energy. Both aspects of the environment, natural and socio-economic, have a capacity for resiliency that is interdependent with each other. A holistic science approach is a prerequisite for adaptive research and management based on understanding, monitoring, and maximizing both natural and socioeconomic resiliency. In 2009, I developed and started the Green Boston Harbor (GBH) project engaging students working on interdisciplinary research, education and outreach sites in Boston Harbor (www.gbh.umb.edu). GBH projects include monitoring for marine invasive species, water quality and zooplankton sampling, assessments of local salt marshes and public beaches, development of Green Roofs in Boston Metro Area, Greening the Cruise Lines in Boston Harbor, and developing an Outdoor classroom at the Mather Elementary School in Dorchester MA.
Doctoral student, Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences Department, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA, USA
I am a longtime researcher and activist for coastal stewardship, sustainability and for holistic science more generally. I am particularly interested in the contemporary transformation of the role of scientific researcher from one of standing outside of nature to a remembrance of living within nature, and in exploring what such a transformation might mean for our choice of research questions, research methodologies, and responsibilities to the subjects of our studies. What do we ask, and how do we ask it, when we are seeking connection with nature instead of separation? As part of this exploration, I participate in the dialog among environmental, scientific, and religious communities seeking a common ground of environmental stewardship. As a member of the Green Boston Harbor (GBH) project, I study applications of holistic science as a tool for enhancing coastal stewardship, with a particular focus on Malibu Bay, integrating salt marsh transects, beach clean-ups and festivals, water quality monitoring, and surveys of beach goers to assist the local communities in re-integrating their lives and beach-related activities within the life of the Bay.
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