Indicator selection to support EBM: the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Integrated Ecosystem Assessment

Kelly Montenero, Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies University of Miami/NOAA AOML, Ocean Chemistry and Ecosystems, Miami, FL, United States and Chris R Kelble, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory - NOAA, Ocean Chemistry & Ecosystems Division, Miami, United States
NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEA) is an approach that integrates all components of an ecosystem, including humans, into the decision-making process so that managers can balance trade-offs and determine what is more likely to achieve their desired goals. The use of ecological indicators is a well-established way to track ecosystem condition and progress. The selection of these indicators themselves is a key component of successful management, however the selection and consensus process has proved to be a challenge.

This work developed and piloted a decision making tool that incorporated expert opinion as well as a quantitative scoring process that used criteria categories to result in a list of best fit indicators to describe the ecological condition of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The steps for this described Integrated Ecosystems Assessment process in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are to: gather identified data sources from time series monitoring efforts within the region, seek stakeholder feedback, identify and quantify thresholds between ecosystem drivers and pressures and the selected indicators that should be used to set management targets, apply early warning analyses that will aim to determine if a tipping point is being approached, and identify management action trade-offs and conduct risk assessments. This work then summarizes the trends and status of the selected indicators.

The full process and assessment will provide advice to resource managers on where and how protective conservation measures should be implemented to minimize pressures, and determine if the proposed reduction in pressures can cause a significant and potentially nonlinear improvement in the ecosystem indicators. This process will also provide information to ecosystem based management in order to alert when an indicator might be nearing a threshold, and will support transparent and science based decision making.