Frequently Asked Questions

Photo of sea stars and anemones

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

  1. Sanctuary condition reports are tools employed by NOAA to assess the condition and trends of national marine sanctuary resources. Condition reports provide a standardized summary of resources in NOAA’s sanctuaries; drivers and pressures on those resources; current conditions and trends for resources and ecosystem services; and describe existing management responses to the pressures that threaten the integrity of the marine environment.
  1. Although the National Marine Sanctuary System's 14 sanctuaries and two marine national monuments are diverse in many ways, including size, location, and resources, condition reports allow ONMS to consistently analyze the status and trends of the abiotic and biotic factors in each ecosystem, ultimately serving as a tool to determine if the sanctuaries are achieving their resource protection and improvement goals.
  1. The reports serve as a tool for resource managers, researchers, policy makers and educators. These groups, as well as anyone else interested in participating in the review process for sanctuary management plans, use the reports as supporting documents for identifying and proposing specific management actions. They also serve as a reporting tool to be used by policy makers, particularly within NOAA and the Department of Commerce, and are 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.
  1. Sanctuary condition reports are structured around two frameworks: 1) a series of questions posed to all national marine sanctuaries; and 2) a management-logic model called the Driving forces (Drivers)-Pressure-State-Ecosystem Services-Response (DPSER) Framework. The first stems from the generic structure of an ecosystem, and is used as the logic framework for the reports, while the second defines the structure of the condition reports themselves.

    All reports include the following elements:

    • D: Driving Forces and Pressures on the Sanctuary
    • P: State of Drivers and Pressures
    • S: State of Sanctuary Resources
    • E: State of Ecosystem Services
    • R: Response to Pressures
  1. Condition reports include information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources and maritime heritage resources, and the human activities that affect them. The assessment of status and trends of resources is addressed by responding to a set of 16 questions that are posed to all sanctuaries. The reports also rate ecosystem service status and trends. There are five status ratings for resource questions and ecosystem service condition, ranging from good to poor. There are three trend ratings for each: improving, not changing, or worsening. Trends are generally based on observed changes in status since the prior condition report, unless otherwise specified.

    Five questions relate to driving forces and human activities, four to water quality, two to habitat, four to living resources, and one to maritime heritage resources.

    The set of of ecosystem services that may be addressed include cultural (heritage, consumptive recreation, non-consumptive recreation, sense of place, science, education), provisioning (food, water, ornamentals, biotechnology, energy), and regulating (coastal protection).

  1. The 16 questions derive from the Office of National Marine Sanctuary mission, and a system-wide monitoring framework 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. The 16 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 tailored site monitoring programs.
  1. 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.

    Status:   Good     Good/Fair      Fair      Fair/Poor      Poor       Undet.  


    Conditions appear to be improving.
    - Conditions do not appear to be changing.
    Conditions appear to be worsening.
    ? Undeterminted trend.
    N/A Question not applicable.

  1. A Rating Scheme for System-Wide Monitoring Questions has been developed by ONMS and is found in each Condition Report. A brief description clarifies each of the 16 questions and statements are presented that are used to judge the status and assign a corresponding color code for each question. These statements are customized for each question and provide a way to standardize judgments across all marine sanctuaries. Sanctuary staff and subject matter experts are asked to use this guidance to make judgments about the status and trends of sanctuary resources.

  1. The process for preparing condition reports involves a combination of accepted techniques for collecting and interpreting information gathered from subject matter experts. The approach varies somewhat from sanctuary to sanctuary, in order to accommodate different styles for working with partners. Most sanctuaries employ an approach closely related to the Delphi Method, a technique designed to organize group communication among a panel of geographically dispersed experts by using questionnaires, ultimately facilitating the formation of a group judgment. This method can be applied when it is necessary for decision makers to combine the testimony of a group of experts, whether in the form of facts or informed opinion, or both, into a single useful statement.

    To address the standardized state of the ecosystem questions and the Ecosystem Services, ONMS selects and consults with subject matter experts who are familiar with water quality, habitat, living resources, maritime heritage resources, and socioeconomics in the sanctuary. Workshops are typically held to discuss and evaluate a set of indicators and associated data sets related to each of the 16 questions and ecosystem services.

    1. After each rating of status or trend subject matter experts at the workshop are asked to assign a level of confidence for their rating by: (1) characterizing the sources of information they used to make judgments; and (2) gauging their agreement with the selected status and trend ratings. The evidence and agreement ratings are then combined to determine the overall confidence ratings. The confidence score is coupled into the status and trend symbol.

        Good     Good/Fair      Fair      Fair/Poor      Poor       Undet.  

      Conditions appear to be improving.
      - Conditions do not appear to be changing.
      Conditions appear to be worsening.
      ? Undeterminted trend.
      N/A Question not applicable.

      Confidence Scale:

      Very High-




      Very Low-


      This symbol indicates the condition was rated "fair" with "medium confidence" and a "worsening" trend with "very high confidence".


    1. In the reports text explains the rationale for determining the status and trend. This text summarizes monitoring findings relating to indicators used to assess each question. Associated graphs, tables and other images are also used to support each judgment.

    1. Condition reports are revised in advance of each sanctuary’s management plan review process, approximately every 10 years.

    1. Yes, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, in consultation with other NOAA legal and program staff, has determined that the Condition Reports are appropriately considered 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.