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What is System-Wide Monitoring?

The National Marine Sanctuary Program manages marine areas in both nearshore and open ocean waters that range in size from less than one to almost 140,000 square miles. Each area has its own concerns and requirements for environmental monitoring. Nevertheless, ecosystem structure and function in all these areas have similarities and are influenced by common factors that interact in comparable ways. Furthermore, the human influences that affect the structure and function of these sites are similar in a number of ways. For these reasons, in 2001 the program began to implement System-Wide Monitoring (SWiM). The monitoring framework (National Marine Sanctuary Program, 2004 pdf, 1.7MB) facilitates the development of effective, ecosystem-based monitoring programs that address management information needs using a design process that can be applied in a consistent way at multiple spatial scales and to multiple resource types. It identifies four primary components common among marine ecosystems - water, habitats, living resources, and maritime archaeological resources.

A diver hovers over the coral reef at the West Flower Garden Bank. The visibility is well over 100 feet horizontally and at least 85 feet vertically, which is typical for summer conditions. Photo: E.L. Hickerson/Flower Garden Banks sanctuary
A diver hovers over the coral reef at the West Flower Garden Bank. The visibility is well over 100 feet horizontally and at least 85 feet vertically, which is typical for summer conditions. (Photo: Photo: E.L. Hickerson/Flower Garden Banks sanctuary)
By assuming that a common marine ecosystem framework can be applied to all places, the National Marine Sanctuary System developed a series of questions that are posed to every sanctuary and used as evaluation criteria to assess resource condition and trends. The questions, which are shown on the following page and explained in the Appendix, are derived from both a generalized ecosystem framework and from the National Marine Sanctuary System's mission. They are widely applicable across the system of areas managed by the sanctuary program and provide a tool with which the program can measure its progress toward maintaining and improving natural and archaeological resource quality throughout the system.

Similar reports summarizing resource status and trends will be prepared for each marine sanctuary approximately every five years and updated as new information allows. The information in this report is intended to help set the stage for the management plan review process. The report also helps sanctuary staff identify monitoring, characterization and research priorities to address gaps, day-to-day information needs and new threats.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
  • 56 square miles (145.38 square km)
  • First discovered and named by fisherman
  • Designated in 1992 as a national marine sanctuary; Stetson Bank added in 1996
  • Complex system of outer continental shelf coral reefs, coralline algae reefs, algal nodules, and deep reefs supporting a diverse array of marine biota
  • Unusual geological features include a brine seep that supports an associated sulfide-based community, and mud volcanoes

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