Linking Nutrient Sources to Coastal Ecosystem Effects and Management: The Nutrients and Coastal Impacts Research Programme N-CIRP

The N-CIRP plan is the result of an organizational workshop held 2-4, February, 2009 at UNESCO. The workshop was co-chaired by John Harrison (Washington State University, Vancouver, USA) and Lex Bouwman (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Bilthoven, The Netherlands). After stakeholder consultation the revised and modified plan was adopted by the IOC Assembly in June 2011.

Nutrient over-enrichment of coastal ecosystems is a major environmental problem globally, contributing to problems such as harmful algal blooms, dead zone formation, and fishery decline. Yet, quantitative relationships between nutrient loading and ecosystem effects are not well defined. The development of such relationships, concurrent with an improved understanding of the complexity of these relationships is critical to effective management of coastal resources; without such understanding degradation of aquatic systems will almost certainly continue, resulting in increased social, economic, and environmental hardship.

N-CIRP aims to address the need for more quantitative analysis of impacts of nutrient loading and changing nutrient stoichiometry in coastal ecosystems. It explore relationships between nutrient inputs, coastal chlorophyll, the occurrence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and hypoxia, and related effects on coastal fish and fisheries, with the ultimate goal of developing novel datasets and innovative, predictive models, which will be shared with stakeholders.

The coastal zone ecosystem stresses on organisms that will be considered are HAB, hypoxia and impacts on fish and fisheries (abundance, composition, landings).

N-CIRP also include foci on issues such as consequences of ecosystem changes for tourism, interactions between climate, nutrients, and coastal dynamics, and elements such as institutions and governance.

The scope of N-CIRP is global; the aim is to investigate relationships between nutrient loading and nutrient transformations in coastal marine ecosystems, develop models that quantitatively describe such relationships, and to identify regions where conditions are prone to the development of HABs and hypoxia and where further in-depth research is needed.

Elements of the approach includes

1.Regional case studies

2.Crosscutting : Climate change

3.Sustainability issues of coastal ecosystem effects and management

4.Human Health issues of coastal ecosystem effects and management


a.Costs and benefits


c.Aquaculture & agriculture


e.Nutrient trading


6.Institutions and Governance

a.Social equity

b.Management, Frameworks and Directives

a.Transboundary (legal) issues

The project “Global foundations for reducing nutrient enrichment and oxygen depletion from land-based pollution, in support of Global Nutrient Cycle” developed by UNEP and IOC in collaboration and funded by the Global Environment facility (GEF) started in 2012. It provides a mechanism for the implementation of some parts of the N-CIRP plan. The overall objective is to provide the foundations (including partnerships, information, tools and policy mechanisms) for governments and other stakeholders to initiate comprehensive, effective and sustained programmes addressing nutrient over-enrichment and oxygen depletion from land-based pollution of coastal waters in Large Marine Ecosystems. The project consists of four components:

(A)a fully established Global Partnership on Nutrient Management;

(B)quantitative analysis of relationship between nutrient sources and impacts to guide decision making on policy and technological options;

(C)establishment of scientific, technological and policy options to improve coastal water quality policies in LMEs and national strategy development – the development of a ‘Policy Tool Box’;

(D)pilot testing of quantitative modelling outcomes from B and best practice measures/options from ‘Policy Tool Box’developed under C in development of nutrient reduction strategies in main demonstration area and additional sites.

The science component B was designed to support the N-CIRP work plan, with a focus on global relationships between nutrient loading of coastal marine ecosystems on the basis of primarily the Global NEWS models and scenarios. Component C will contribute to the toolbox development envisaged in the N-CIRP work plan, and component D is a demonstration region, which fits with the element of regional case studies as proposed by the stakeholder consultation of N-CIRP.

CONTACT: Dr. Lex Bouwman at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Figure 1. A conceptual framework demonstrating how N-CIRP will interact in mutually beneficial ways with multiple IOC and non IOC programmes. (Acronyms: Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS); Global Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (GEOHAB), Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM); International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP) Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ), UNEP Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (UNEP/GPA); International Nitrogen Initiative (INI);International Human Dimensions Program (IHDP).


Hosted by UNESCO/IOC Project Office for IODE Oostende, Belgium