Does Science-Based Management Through Indicators Improve Ecosystem Conditions?

Rachel Martin, Ohio University, Environmental Studies, Athens, OH, United States and Chris R Kelble, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory - NOAA, Ocean Chemistry & Ecosystems Division, Miami, United States
There has been a proliferation of ecosystem indicators developed to assess the condition of coastal and marine ecosystems and inform management decisions. NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment program and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries have been two of the most active NOAA entities using ecosystem indicators in this manner for a decade or longer. Given the frequency and extent of ecosystem indicator use, it is necessary to assess whether or not they have been effective at achieving their intended goals. This study analyzed historic data for five commonly utilized indicators: chlorophyll-a, seagrass or submersed aquatic vegetation, nitrogen, phosphorus, and fish species. Ten sites were analyzed for their use of indicators, indicator-data trends, and success in meeting goals identified by management plans and waterway quality standards. Management targets and responsible entities ranged from local to federal levels of jurisdiction, allowing for the study to span multiple levels of governance. Results indicate a clear need for environmental indicators when managing coastal and aquatic ecosystems and their value when coupled with concise management objectives, goals and timelines. Whether or not a goal was met was positively correlated with indicator use in management, as well as trends toward stated goals if not met already. Overall, the use of ecosystem indicators to improve ecosystem conditions supports the notion of science-based management through indicators as an exemplary tool to restore, conserve and protect healthy oceans and waterways.