Frequently Asked Questions About the National Marine Sanctuary Program Condition Reports

The following Q&A provides background information relating to the NMSP Condition Reports.

 1. What is a Condition Report?

The Condition Reports provide a summary of resources in the National Marine Sanctuaries, pressures on those resources, the current condition and trends, and management responses to the pressures that threaten the integrity of the marine environment.  Specifically, the Condition Reports include information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources and maritime archaeological resources and the human activities that affect them.

 2. What is the goal of a Condition Report?

The Condition Reports document the condition of sanctuary resources based on sanctuary staff judgments after consultation with selected partners and best available information. The reports serve as a tool to determine if the sanctuaries are achieving their resource protection and improvement goals as reflected in NMSP performance measures.

 3. Who is the audience?

The reports serve as a supporting document during the Management Plan Review Process, to be used by constituents who desire to participate in that process. They also serve as a reporting tool to be used by policy makers, particularly within NOAA and the Department of Commerce. The reports are also used as education and outreach tools.  The reports are distributed to constituents and made available to the general public at events and on the internet.

 4. What is the format of the report?

Condition Reports for all sanctuaries follow the same format and are written in the style of an executive summary. Reports are approximately 25 – 30 pages long (with an additional 10 pages for an Appendix) and include the same basic elements:

  1. Overview

  2. Site History and Resources

  3. Pressures on the Sanctuary

  4. State of Sanctuary Resources

  5. Response to Pressures

  6. References

  7. Appendix – Rating Scheme for System-Wide Monitoring Questions

 5. How will resource condition be quantified?

The Condition Reports use a set of 17 questions as a tool to report on the status and trends of sanctuary resources. These questions relate to water, habitat, living resources, and maritime archaeological resources. The Appendix (Rating Scheme for System-Wide Monitoring Questions) lists and provides an explanation for the set of questions.

6. Where did the set of 17 questions originate?

The questions derive from the National Marine Sanctuary Program mission, and a system-wide monitoring framework (National Marine Sanctuary Program, 2004) developed to ensure the timely flow of data and information to those responsible for managing and protecting resources in the ocean and coastal zone, and to those that use, depend on, and study the ecosystems encompassed by the sanctuaries. Questions 1-4 relate to Water Quality, questions 5-8 relate to Habitat, questions 9-14 relate to Living Resources, and questions 15-17 relate to Maritime Archaeological Resources.

The questions are general in nature so that they can be asked within any marine ecosystem and at any spatial scale. Much more specific questions might be asked at any given marine sanctuary, forming the basis for site monitoring programs. Specific questions are not the focus of the Condition Report, but may be used to help answer the 17 questions posed here.

7. What are the possible responses for each question?

Each question will be answered using a “status and trends” reporting system. Each question will be assigned a color to denote status and a symbol to denote the trend.

8. How is a color and symbol selected?

The Appendix (Rating Scheme for System-Wide Monitoring Questions) found in each Condition Report clarifies the 17 questions and the possible responses for each question. Sanctuary staff and partners are asked to use this guidance, as well as their own informed and detailed understanding of the site, to make judgments about the status and trends of sanctuary resources.

In the Appendix, following a brief discussion about each question, statements are presented that are used to judge the status and assign a corresponding color code.  These statements are customized for each question and provide a way to standardize judgments across all marine sanctuaries.

9. What information will be given to support each question’s answer?

In the reports text explains the basis for judgment for determining the status and trend. This text summarizes monitoring findings relating to each question. Associated graphs, tables and other images are also used to support each judgment. In general, experts base their judgment of status and trends on changes that have resulted from anthropogenic impacts that can be managed rather than natural drivers that cannot be. 

10. How detailed is the report?

All reports are fairly high level and should be thought of as executive summaries that summarize the condition of the sanctuaries. The Condition Reports are not the place for presenting the bulk of monitoring data that is collected at the sanctuary; rather it is a summary of findings from any and all monitoring programs that exist at a site.

11. How often are the reports revised?

The Condition Reports will be revised every five years, preferably being completed near the beginning of the management plan review process. Sections of the web-based reports may be changed in the interim, as new information becomes available.

12. Are the reports reviewed?

Yes, the NMSP, in consultation with other NOAA legal and program staff, has determined that the Condition Reports are appropriately considered as Influential Scientific Information.  For this reason, these reports are subject to the review requirements of the White House Office of Management and Budget as outlined in the Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review. More information on this is on the Office of the Chief Information Officer website.

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