The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) initiated research and monitoring programs in estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico with the goal of developing reliable and credible predictive capabilities based on an understanding of natural and anthropogenic influences on the ecosystems. The results of these studies will provide custodians of our environment with the knowledge and tools to more effectively manage and regulate these vital ecosystems. Key to the USGS approach is the recognition that estuarine systems function as a result of a complex interplay among biologic, geologic, hydrologic, atmospheric, and chemical processes and an integrated, multidisciplinary research strategy among all entities conducting research in the estuaries is therefore essential for achieving credible results.
In order to demonstrate the efficacy of this approach, Tampa Bay was selected for a five-year pilot study. Tampa Bay is one of the largest estuaries in the Gulf of Mexico and typifies the stress experienced from the impact of human population expansion in the region. The first year will be dedicated to a demonstration of the power of integrated, multidisciplinary science combined with effective data management and GIS products. Although estuarine settings vary throughout the Gulf, one of the products of the project will be a research template, incorporating past and on-going research and newly introduced USGS capabilities that can be applied to other gulf estuaries.
Past and on-going research activities conducted by non-USGS entities and USGS capabilities were presented at the Gulf of Mexico Estuaries Integrated Science Workshop and constituted the basis for designing the integrated research strategies for the bay. This paper describes the objectives, strategy, and techniques, from field research to finished product, to initiate the first-year demonstration activities, the five-year pilot project, and the template for conducting similar studies in other estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico.