The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries manages marine protected areas in both nearshore and open-ocean waters that range in size from less than one to almost 362,600 square kilometers (140,000 square miles). Each area has its own concerns and requirements for environmental monitoring, but 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 (NMSP 2004) 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.
By assuming that a common marine ecosystem framework can be applied to all sites, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries developed a series of questions that are posed for 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 Appendix A, are derived from both a generalized ecosystem framework and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries 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 the reports is intended to contribute to management plan reviews at each site and also helps sanctuary staff identify monitoring, characterization and research priorities to address gaps, day-to-day information needs and new threats.