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Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program
The Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program (DCERP) is designed to conduct mission-relevant and basic and applied research in support of ecosystem-based management. The program's primary goal is to enhance and sustain the military mission by developing an understanding of coastal and estuarine ecosystem composition, structure, and function within the context of a military training environment. DCERP objectives include: (1) develop appropriate conceptual and mechanistic ecological models to guide research, monitoring, and adaptive management feedback loops; (2) identify significant ecosystem stressors, their sources both on and off Camp Lejeune, and their level of impact on Camp Lejeune's ecological systems; and (3) incorporate stressor and other ecological indicator information into the models, with an aim to develop more effective management guidelines for sustainable ecosystems.
To facilitate better understanding of ecosystem state and dynamics, Camp Lejeune and its surrounding environment were subdivided into four distinct, but interdependent ecosystem modules: aquatic-estuarine, coastal barrier island, coastal wetlands, and terrestrial. In addition, atmospheric and data management modules were included. Modules are linked by nesting each within a common regional land-air-seascape setting. The New River watershed provides an important spatial depiction of this setting. Cross-cutting research projects, including geospatial-based ecosystem modeling and synthesis of the nitrogen cycle across air, water, and land, capture key ecological processes.
Baseline monitoring and research take an integrative and hierarchical approach that transcends air-land-water boundaries to study the effects of changes across ecosystems. Activities incorporate Camp Lejeune's ongoing research and monitoring projects, address its key environmental issues, and reflect a strategy to illuminate underlying ecosystem processes, identify stressor-specific indicators, and specify critical system process thresholds that could potentially threaten sustainability.
A long-term ecosystem monitoring system comprises more than 300 monitoring and related research sites. Thirteen research projects have been executed either as part of the four ecosystem modules or related to atmospheric processes. In addition, a centralized system of broad data management functions was created to support managing the complex environmental data generated by the program. Program web sites facilitate the rapid exchange of information among the various DCERP partners, Camp Lejeune, and the public.
Initial research has elucidated in particular the hydrologic and nitrogen cycles within the New River watershed. A primary focus has been on relating these cycles to the health of the New River estuary, including harmful algal blooms, and allocating the sources of stress to that system between military and non-military sources. Estuaries are integrators of impacts occurring within their associated watershed. Preliminary data indicate that, in general, Camp Lejeune activities are a relatively small contributor to estuary stress, but that at times localized land-use practices on the base may contribute nutrient loads. Detailed characterization of the biotic and abiotic features of the New River estuary and adjoining marshes and creeks through DCERP will lead to new understanding of the ecology and management of shallow water estuaries such as the New River.
Other DCERP research is improving our understanding of the geomorphology of coastal barrier islands and related biological processes, providing important insights to the responses of coastal marshes to nutrient and sediment loads and to potential rises in sea level, and indicating how wind and boat wake wave action affect coastal shoreline erosion processes. Terrestrial research has focused on assessing silvicultural practices and the ability to accelerate recovery of the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystem and its component biota. In particular, researchers have explored how management for one listed species, the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), may affect other bird species dependent on the longleaf pine ecosystem. Finally, atmospheric research has focused on nitrogen deposition and the effects of fire on air quality.
The long-term benefit of DCERP is a greater understanding of Camp Lejeune's biologically diverse coastal barrier island, estuarine, coastal wetland, and terrestrial ecosystems and their interactions with military training activities. Beyond that, its benefit is to also extend this learning to other DoD coastal installations. This understanding will aid in the long-term management and sustainability of coastal/estuarine ecosystems, which will enhance and maintain the military mission at these installations. Data resulting from this program's research and monitoring efforts will increase the ability of installation resource managers to perform assessments and implement appropriate management responses to potential environmental impacts arising from military activities, natural disturbance events, or climate change.