State of the Beach/State Reports/OH/Beach Ecology
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To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.
Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.
In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include
- quality of habitat,
- status of ‘indicator’ species,
- maintenance of species richness, and
- management practices.
It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.
Ohio's Coastal Program Management Document recognizes sandy beaches as ecological habitats and lays out management guidelines to protect beaches as a natural resource.
Ohio Coastal Management Program Policies relevant to beach ecology include:
The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) helps protect coastal and estuarine lands considered important for their ecological, conservation, recreational, historical or aesthetic value or that are threatened by conversion from a natural or recreational state to other uses. Ohio's CELCP Plan was approved by NOAA in August 2010. The final approved CELCP Plan can be downloaded from the Office of Coastal Management's CELCP website. For FY 2010, NOAA approved funding for two of Ohio's three submitted CELCP projects, the Kelleys Island Preserve project and the Lake Erie Bluff Preservation- Phase I project. Information on all submitted projects since 2007 can be found here.
Sandy beaches are protected in three nature preserves. Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve is one of the best sand dune-vegetation communities of its kind in Ohio. This isolated 16 acre tract provides valuable habitat for a rare assemblage of plants and animals characteristic of the sand beach and dune communities that were once common along the shores of Lake Erie. Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve is one of Ohio's best remaining examples of a Great Lakes-type estuary. The 572-acre reserve encompasses a variety of habitats including freshwater marshes, swamp forests, a barrier sand beach, upland forests, estuarine waters and near-shore Lake Erie. As a natural transition zone between land and water, the OWC-NERR provides valuable habitat for a wide array of plant and animal life from microscopic algae, aquatic vascular plants, numerous fish, reptile and amphibian species; to hundreds of species of birds, including the American bald eagle. The wetlands ecosystem of the reserve performs valuable natural functions such as filtration of stream sediments, nutrients, and pollutants, and affords protection from coastal erosion and flooding. Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve is a 463-acre preserve containing some of the last remaining undeveloped stretches of lakeshore in the Sandusky Bay region. Preserved are habitat relicts of the original lake-marsh-forest ecosystem such as old field, hardwood forest, woodland swamp, cattail marsh, barrier sand beach and open water. Nearly 300 bird species and many wildflowers, including the spectacular cardinal flower, are known to the area. Sheldon Marsh is well known for its valuable habitat for fledgling American bald eagles, migratory waterfowl, shore birds and wood warblers. Additional acquisition will be needed for increased site protection.
Threatened and endangered resources are at risk where beach/dune complexes are de-stabilized or lost.
The following species are especially vulnerable where beach/dune complexes exist and where they
protect sensitive wetland communities:
- Peregrine Falcon - Federally monitored
- Piping Plover - Federally Endangered
- Bald Eagle - Federally Threatened
- Lake Erie Water Snake - Federally Threatened
- American Bittern - Endangered
- Bald Eagle - Endangered
- Black-crowned Night-Heron - Threatened
- Black Tern - Endangered
- Common Tern - Endangered
- Engelmann's Spikerush - Endangered
- Least Bittern - Threatened
- Little Blue Heron – Special Interest
- Peregrine Falcon - Endangered
- Piping Plover - Endangered
- Osprey - Endangered
- Snowy Egret - Endangered
- Beach Wormwood - Endangered
- Bushy Cinquefoil - Endangered
- Lake Erie Water Snake - Endangered
- Small-flowered Evening-primrose - Threatened
- Oakes’ Evening Primrose - Threatened
- Floating Pondweed - Potentially Threatened
- Low Umbrella-sedge - Potentially Threatened
- Purple Sand Grass - Potentially Threatened
- Sea-rocket - Potentially Threatened
- Seaside Spurge - Potentially Threatened
- Schweinitz's Umbrella-sedge - Potentially Threatened
- Blanding's Turtle - Species of Concern
- Fox Snake - Species of Concern
- Ovate Spikerush – Endangered
- Olney’s Three-square – Endangered
- Tuckerman’s Panic Grass – Endangered
- Coastal Little Bluestem – Endangered
- Inland Beach Pea – Threatened
- American Beach Grass – Threatened
- Leafy Tussock Sedge – Potentially Threatened
- Alpine Rush – Potentially Threatened
Two areas of coastal beach/dune complexes (Sheldon Marsh and Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserves) were identified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in its restoration proposals for the piping plover.
The website of Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNR) provides extensive information on wetlands, nature preserves, and the Division's biodiversity database program (Rare Plant Species, Ohio Biodiversity Database, Invasive Species).
Ohio EPA has published Methods of Assessing Habitat in Lake Erie Shoreline Waters Using the Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index Approach (June 2010).
The Lake Erie Protection & Restoration Plan 2008 has several goals related to beach ecology:
- Develop and implement plans to restore beaches and shoreline habitat
- Promote diversity of native flora and fauna by protecting and restoring habitat
- Protect, enhance, and restore important Lake Erie basin habitats and species including beaches, dunes, fish spawning areas, nearshore habitat, oak savannas, alvars, caves, riparian and instream habitat in channels, and streams that are subject to impacts from hydromodification (due to stream maintenance or dams)
- Promote measures to reduce negative impacts of shore protection on coastal habitat
- Measure the effectiveness of efforts to improve and protect Lake Erie
Invasive species are a source of significant concern in Ohio. The proliferation of zebra and quagga mussels, round gobies, and giant reed demonstrated the destruction that can be caused by invasives. A more recent concern has been the potential introduction into the Great Lakes Basin of several Asian carp species, for which an electric barrier has been placed in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Some efforts have been made to prevent widespread introduction of these species into Lake Erie, but the ultimate extent of their effects remains unknown. Far greater efforts covering a wide array of methods must be made to prevent invasive species introduction and the continued displacement of native species. While invasive species remain a significant source of concern in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Divisions of Natural Areas and Preserves, Parks and Recreation, and Wildlife are working to address this issue at the state level. Regional efforts are underway by the Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species that was convened in 1991 in response to section 1203 of the Non-indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-646) and by the Invasive Species Committee of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem Team of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Other Coastal Ecosystems
Ohio's Section 309 Programmatic Objectives for wetlands are:
- I. Protect and preserve existing levels of wetlands, as measured by acreage and functions, from direct, indirect and cumulative adverse impacts, by developing or improving regulatory programs.
- II. Increase acres and associated functions (e.g. fish and wildlife habitat, water quality protection, flood protection) of restored wetlands, including restoration and monitoring of habitat for threatened and endangered species.
- III. Utilize non-regulatory and innovative techniques to provide for the protection and acquisition of coastal wetlands.
- IV. Develop and improve wetlands creation programs.
The Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project (GLEAM) evaluates multiple stressors affecting the Great Lakes ecosystem. GLEAM merges spatial data layers representing all major categories of stressors to the Great Lakes, ranging from climate change and land-based pollution to invasive species, into a single map of cumulative stress. The synthesis of this information into a single map enhances our ability to manage and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem. The final map can be used to assess stressor impacts at locations with significant human benefits and to evaluate conservation and restoration opportunities.
NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources (such as birds and shellfish beds), sensitive shorelines (such as marshes and tidal flats), and human-use resources (such as public beaches and parks).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center, in partnership with NatureServe and others are developing the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a standard ecological classification system that is universally applicable for coastal and marine systems and complementary to existing wetland and upland systems.
Office of Coastal Management
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
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