July 11, 2023
Journal Article

Assessing the effectiveness of large-scale environmental restoration: challenges and opportunities


A recent National Academies consensus report addresses monitoring and assessment of cumulative effects of large-scale and multiple restoration projects within the context of long-term environmental change. Fines and penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) have supported hundreds of restoration projects at spatial scales not often possible in the past. Here, the report committee members and staff provide personal reflections from our time working on the study. We found that gaps in data collection, issues with data accessibility, and a lack of synthesis and analysis are hindering the ability to answer a basic question: What are the impacts of these many restoration efforts on improving ecosystem health and productivity in the GoM? Restoration efforts are occurring in environments where many trends are exhibiting higher variability than in the past, suggesting that previously successful restoration practices may no longer be adequate to compensate for the effects of environmental changes and variability. Our proposed approach to these challenges includes employing emerging monitoring technologies; using conceptual models; devising an adaptive management framework; rethinking restoration outcome goals; assessing cumulative effects; and undertaking rigorous synthesis and analysis of existing information on long-term environmental trends and restoration efforts. Restoration scientists and practitioners working in the GoM have an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate large-scale environmental recovery if advances in monitoring, synthesis, assessment, and action are taken quickly. We are cautiously optimistic that, with mid-course adjustments, continued progress toward large-scale environmental recovery is possible.

Published: July 11, 2023


Greening H., K.L. Heck, L.D. Mckinney, H.L. Diefenderfer, W.R. Boynton, B.A. Kleiss, and D.R. Mishra, et al. 2023. Assessing the effectiveness of large-scale environmental restoration: challenges and opportunities. Estuaries and Coasts 46, no. 2:293–301. PNNL-SA-179798. doi:10.1007/s12237-022-01149-8