Rating Scheme for System-Wide Monitoring Questions

Photo of chub and finger coral

The purpose of this rating scheme is to clarify the questions and possible responses used to report the condition of sanctuary resources in “condition reports” for all national marine sanctuaries. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and subject matter experts used this guidance, as well as their own understanding of the condition of resources, to make judgments about the status and trends of sanctuary resources.

The questions derive from the National Marine Sanctuary System’s 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 sanctuary resources. The questions are being used to guide ONMS and its partners at each of the sanctuary system’s 14 units in the development of periodic sanctuary condition reports. Evaluations of status and trends were based on interpretation of quantitative and, when necessary, non-quantitative assessments and observations of scientists, managers, and users.

In 2012, ONMS led an effort to review and edit the set of questions and their possible responses that were developed for the first round of condition reports (drafted between 2007 and 2014) (NMSP 2004). The questions that follow are revised and improved versions of those original questions. Although all questions have been edited to some degree, both in their description and status ratings, the nature and intent of most questions have not changed. Five questions (i.e., Questions 1, 8, 10, 12, and 13), however, are either new or are significantly altered and therefore, are not directly comparable to the original questions. For these, a new baseline will need to be established.

  • A new question that addresses the status and trend of driving forces that ultimately influence the pressures on sanctuary resources was added.
  • Among the Water Quality questions, one was added on climate change. This was necessary to address the constantly increasing awareness and attention to the issue following the original design of the condition report process, which began in 2002. It also removed the need to combine climate change discussions with other questions.
  • Two Habitat Quality questions were combined due to feedback received during the development of the first round of reports. A single question regarding the “integrity of major habitat types” has been created and combines prior questions that separately inquired about non-biogenic and biogenic habitats. Our experience showed that species constituting biogenic habitat (e.g., kelp, corals, seagrass, etc.) were considered adequately within questions about living resources, and need not be covered twice in the reports.
  • Among the Living Resource Quality questions, one used in the first round of condition reports was removed entirely. It asked about “the status of environmentally sustainable fishing.” It was removed for a variety of reasons — it was the only question focused on a single, specific human activity and because fishing activity discussions were already included in the question regarding “human activities that may influence living resource quality.” In addition, living resource quality that would provide a basis for judgement for this question was typically considered as part of other living resource questions, and need not be covered twice. Another change to the Living Resource Quality questions pertains to the question about the “health of key species” which was previously addressed in a single question, but is now split into two. The first asks specifically about the status of “keystone and foundation” species, the second about “other focal species.” In either case, the health of any species of interest can be considered in judgement of status and trends.
  • One of the initial maritime archaeology questions addressed potential environmental hazards presented by heritage resources like shipwrecks. While the assessment of such threats is important, it was decided that the question should actually address environmental hazards in general rather than apply specifically to historic maritime properties. Therefore, the question was removed from the maritime heritage resources section of the report and the subject is discussed in the context of other questions.

Ratings for a number of questions depend on judgments of the “ecological integrity” within a national marine sanctuary. This is because one of the foundational principles behind the establishment of sanctuaries is to protect ocean ecosystems. The term ecological integrity is used to imply “the presence of naturally occurring species, populations and communities, and ecological processes functioning at appropriate rates, scales, and levels of natural variation, as well as the environmental conditions that support these attributes” (modified from the National Park Service’s Vital Signs Monitoring Program). Sanctuaries have ecological integrity when they have their native components intact, including abiotic components (i.e., the physical forces and chemical elements, such as water), biotic elements (such as habitats), biodiversity (i.e., the composition and abundance of species and communities), and ecological processes (e.g., competition, predation, symbioses). For purposes of this report, the level of integrity that is judged to exist is based on the extent to which humans have altered specific components of the system, and the effect of that change on the ability of an ecosystem to resist continued change and recover from it. The statements for many questions are intended to reflect this judgment. Reference is made in the rating system to “near-pristine” conditions, for which this report would imply a status as near to an unaltered ecosystem as can reasonably be presumed to exist, recognizing that there are virtually no ecosystems on Earth completely free from human influence.

Not all questions, however, use ecological integrity as a basis for judgment. One focuses on the impacts of water quality factors on human health. Two questions rate the status of keystone and key species compared with that expected in an unaltered ecosystem. One rates maritime archaeological resources based on their historical, archaeological, scientific, and educational value. Another considers the level and persistence of localized threats posed by degrading archaeological resources. Finally, four ask specifically about the levels of ongoing human activities (i.e., Pressures) that could affect resource condition.

During workshops in which status and trends are rated, subject matter experts discuss each question and available data, literature (e.g., published scientific studies, reports), and experience associated with the topic. They then discuss the statements provided as options for judgments about status; these statements have been customized for each question. Once a particular statement is agreed upon, a color code and status rating (e.g., good, fair, poor) is assigned. Experts can also decide that the most appropriate rating is “N/A” (i.e., the question does not apply) or “Undet.” (i.e., resource status is undetermined due to a paucity of relevant information).

A subsequent discussion is then held about the trend. Conditions are determined to be improving, remaining the same, or worsening in comparison to the results found in the first round of condition reports. Symbols used to indicate trends are the same for all questions: “▲” - conditions appear to be improving;  “▬” - conditions do not appear to be changing; “▼” -conditions appear to be worsening; and “?” – trend is undetermined.

Drivers/Pressures

Question 1 (Drivers/Human Activities):  What are the states of influential human drivers and how are they changing?

Driving forces are those characteristics of human societies that influence the nature and extent of pressures on resources. They are the underlying cause of change in coastal marine ecosystems, as they determine human use. Drivers are influenced by demographics (e.g., age structure, population, etc.), demand, economic circumstances, industrial development patterns, business trends, and societal values. They operate at global, regional, and local scales. Examples include increasing global demand for agricultural commodities, which increases the use of chemicals that degrade coastal water quality; difficult economic times that reduce fishing efforts for a period of time within certain regions; or local construction booms that alter recreational visitation trends. Other drivers could be the demands that govern trends, such as global greenhouse gas generation, regional shipping or offshore industrial development, local recreation and tourism, fishing, port improvement, manufacturing, and age-specific services (e.g., retirement). Each of these, in turn, influences certain pressures on natural and cultural resources.

Integrated into this question should be consideration of societal values, which include such matters as levels of conservation awareness, political leanings, opinion about environmental issues relative to other concerns, or changing opinions about the acceptability of specific behaviors (e.g., littering, fishing). Understanding these values gives one a better understanding of the likely future trends in drivers and pressures, as well as the nature of the societal tradeoffs in different uses of the ecosystem resources (e.g., the effects of multiple changing drivers on each other and the resources they affect). This can better inform policy and management responses, and education and outreach efforts that are designed to change societal values with the intention to change drivers and reduce pressures.

In rating the status and trends for drivers, the following should be considered:

  • the main driving forces behind each pressure affecting natural resources and the environment
  • the best available indicators of each driving force
  • the status and trend of each driving force
  • societal values behind each driving force
  • the best indicators of societal values
  • the status and trend of societal values

Good Few or no drivers occur that have the potential to influence pressures in ways that will negatively affect resource qualities.
Good/Fair Some drivers exist that may influence pressures in ways expected to degrade some attributes of resource quality.
Fair Selected drivers are influencing pressures in ways that cause measurable resource impacts.
Fair/Poor Selected drivers are influencing pressures in ways that result in severe impacts that are either widespread or persistent.
Poor Selected drivers are influencing pressures in ways that result in severe, persistent, and widespread impacts.


Question 2 (Water/Human Activities): What are the levels of human activities that may adversely influence water quality and how are they changing?

Among the human activities in or near sanctuaries that affect water quality are those involving direct discharges and spills (vessels, onshore and offshore industrial facilities, public wastewater facilities), those that contribute contaminants to groundwater, stream, river, and water control discharges (agriculture, runoff from impermeable surfaces through storm drains, conversion of land use), and those releasing airborne chemicals that subsequently deposit via particulates at sea (vessels, land-based traffic, power plants, manufacturing facilities, refineries). In addition, dredging and trawling can cause resuspension of contaminants in sediments. Many of these activities can be controlled through management actions in order to limit their impact on protected resources.

Good Few or no activities occur that are likely to negatively affect water quality.
Good/Fair Some potentially harmful activities exist, but they have not been shown to degrade water quality.
Fair Selected activities have caused measurable resource impacts, but effects are localized and not widespread or persistent.
Fair/Poor Selected activities have caused severe impacts that are either widespread or persistent.
Poor Selected activities have caused severe, persistent, and widespread impacts.


Question 3 (Habitat/Human Activities): What are the levels of human activities that may adversely influence habitats and how are they changing?

Human activities that degrade habitat quality do so by affecting structural (physical), biological, oceanographic, acoustic, or chemical characteristics of the habitat. Structural impacts, such as removal or mechanical alteration of habitat, can result from various fishing methods (e.g., trawls, traps, dredges, longlines, and even hook-and-line in some habitats), dredging of channels and harbors, dumping dredge spoil, grounding of vessels, anchoring, laying pipelines and cables, installing offshore structures, discharging drill cuttings, dragging tow cables, and placing artificial reefs. Removal or alteration of critical biological components of habitats can occur due to several of the above activities, most notably trawling, groundings, and cable drags. Marine debris, particularly in large quantities (e.g., lost gill nets and other types of fishing gear), can degrade both biological and structural habitat components. Changes in water circulation often occur when channels are dredged, fill is added, coastlines are armored or other construction takes place. Management actions such as beach wrack removal or sand replenishment on high public-use beaches, may impact the integrity of the natural ecosystem. Alterations in circulations can lead to changes in food delivery, waste removal, water quality (e.g., salinity, clarity and sedimentation), recruitment patterns, and a host of other ecological processes. Chemical alterations most commonly occur following spills and can have both acute and chronic impacts. Many of these activities can be controlled through management actions in order to limit their impact on protected resources.

Good Few or no activities occur that are likely to negatively affect habitat quality.
Good/Fair Some potentially harmful activities exist, but they have not been shown to degrade habitat quality.
Fair Selected activities have caused measurable resource impacts, but effects are localized and not widespread or persistent.
Fair/Poor Selected activities have caused severe impacts that are either widespread or persistent.
Poor Selected activities have caused severe, persistent, and widespread impacts.


Question 4 (Living Resources/Human Activities): What are the levels of human activities that may adversely influence living resources and how are they changing?

Human activities that degrade the condition of living resources do so by causing a loss or reduction of one or more species, by disrupting critical life stages, by impairing various physiological processes, or by promoting the introduction of non-indigenous species or pathogens. (Note: Activities that impact habitat and water quality may also affect living resources. These activities are dealt with in Questions 2 and 3, and some may be repeated here as they also directly affect living resources).

For most sanctuaries, recreational or commercial fishing and collecting have direct effects on animal or plant populations, either through removal or injury of organisms. Related to this, lost fishing gear can cause extended periods of loss for some species through entanglement and “ghost fishing.” In addition, some fishing techniques are size-selective, resulting in impacts to particular life stages. High levels of visitor use in some places also cause localized depletion, particularly in intertidal areas or on shallow coral reefs, where collecting and trampling can be chronic problems.

Mortality and injury to living resources has also been documented from cable drags (e.g., towed barge operations), dumping spoil or drill cuttings, vessel groundings, or repeated anchoring. Contamination caused by acute or chronic spills or increased sedimentation to nearshore ecosystems from road developments in watersheds (including runoff from coastal construction or highly built coastal areas), discharges by vessels, or municipal and industrial facilities can make habitats unsuitable for recruitment or other ecosystem services (e.g., as nurseries or spawning grounds). And while coastal armoring and construction can increase the availability of surfaces suitable for hard bottom species, the activity may disrupt recruitment patterns for other species (e.g., intertidal soft bottom animals), and natural habitat may be lost.

Oil spills (and spill response actions), discharges, and contaminants released from sediments (e.g., by dredging and dumping) can all cause physiological impairment and tissue contamination. Such activities can affect all life stages by direct mortality, reducing fecundity, reducing disease resistance, loss as prey and disruption of predator-prey relationships, and increasing susceptibility to predation. Furthermore, bioaccumulation results in some contaminants moving upward through the food chain, disproportionately affecting certain species.

Activities that promote the introduction of non-indigenous species include bilge discharges and ballast water exchange, commercial shipping and vessel transportation. Intentional or accidental releases of aquarium fish and plants can also lead to introductions of non-indigenous species.

Many of these activities are controlled through management actions in order to limit their impact on protected resources.

Good Few or no activities occur that are likely to negatively affect living resource quality.
Good/Fair Some potentially harmful activities exist, but they have not been shown to degrade living resource quality.
Fair Selected activities have caused measurable living resource impacts, but effects are localized and not widespread or persistent.
Fair/Poor Selected activities have caused severe impacts that are either widespread or persistent.
Poor Selected activities have caused severe, persistent, and widespread impacts.


Question 5 (Maritime Heritage Resources/Human Activities): What are the levels of human activities that may adversely affect maritime heritage resources and how are they changing?

Maritime heritage resources are the wide variety of tangible and intangible elements (archaeological, cultural, historical properties) that reflect our human connections to Great Lakes and ocean areas.

Some human activities threaten the archaeological or historical condition of maritime heritage resources. Archaeological or historical condition is compromised when elements are moved, removed, or otherwise damaged. Threats come from looting, inadvertent damage by recreational divers, improper research methods, vessel anchorings and groundings, and commercial and recreational fishing activities, among others. Other human activities may alter or damage heritage resources by impacting the landscape or viewshed of culturally significant places or locations. Many of these activities can be controlled through management actions in order to limit their impact to maritime heritage resources.

Good Few or no activities occur at maritime heritage resource sites that are likely to adversely affect their condition.
Good/Fair Some potentially damaging activities exist, but they have not been shown to degrade maritime heritage resource condition.
Fair Selected activities have caused measurable impacts to maritime heritage resources, but effects are localized and not widespread or persistent.
Fair/Poor Selected activities have caused severe impacts that are either widespread or persistent.
Poor Selected activities have caused severe, persistent, and widespread impacts.

Water Quality

Question 6 (Water/Eutrophic Condition): What is the eutrophic condition of sanctuary waters and how is it changing?

Eutrophication is the accelerated production of organic matter, particularly algae, in a water body. It is usually caused by an increase in the amount of nutrients (largely nitrogen and phosphorus) being discharged to the water body. As a result of accelerated algal production, a variety of interrelated impacts may occur, including nuisance and toxic algal blooms, depleted dissolved oxygen, and loss of submerged aquatic vegetation (Bricker et al. 1999). Indicators commonly used to detect eutrophication and associated problems include nutrient concentrations, chlorophyll content, rates of water column or benthic primary production, benthic algae cover, algae bloom frequency and intensity, oxygen levels, and light penetration.

Eutrophication of sanctuary waters can impact the condition of other sanctuary resources. Nutrient enrichment often leads to plankton and/or algae blooms. Blooms of benthic algae can affect benthic communities directly through space competition. Indirect effects of overgrowth and other competitive interactions (e.g., accumulation of algal-sediment mats) often lead to shifts in dominance in the benthic assemblage, oxygen depletion, etc. Disease incidence and frequency can also be affected by algae competition and changes in the chemical environment along competitive boundaries. Blooms can also affect water column conditions, including light penetration and plankton availability, which can alter pelagic food webs. Harmful algal blooms (HABs), some of which are exacerbated by eutrophic conditions, often affect other living resources, as biotoxins are consumed or released into the water and air, or decomposition depletes oxygen concentrations.

Good Eutrophication has not been documented, or does not appear to have the potential to negatively affect ecological integrity.
Good/Fair Eutrophication is suspected and may degrade some attributes of ecological integrity, but has not yet caused measurable degradation.
Fair Eutrophication has caused measurable but not severe degradation in some attributes of ecological integrity.
Fair/Poor Eutrophication has caused severe degradation in some but not all attributes of ecological integrity.
Poor Eutrophication has caused severe degradation in most if not all attributes of ecological integrity.


Question 7 (Water/Human Health): Do sanctuary waters pose risks to human health and how are they changing?

Human health concerns are generally aroused by evidence of contamination (usually bacterial or chemical) in bathing waters or seafood intended for consumption. They also arise when harmful algal blooms are reported or when cases of respiratory distress or other disorders attributable to harmful algal blooms increase dramatically. Any of these conditions should be considered in the course of judging the risk to humans posed by waters in a marine sanctuary.

Some sanctuaries may have access to specific information about beach closures and seafood contamination. In particular, beaches may be closed when criteria for water safety are exceeded. Shellfish harvesting and fishing may be prohibited when contaminant or biotoxin loads or infection rates exceed certain levels. Alternatively, seafood advisories may also be issued, recommending that people avoid or limit intake of particular types of seafood from certain areas (e.g., when ciguatera poisoning is reported). Any of these conditions, along with changing frequencies or intensities, can be important indicators of human health problems and can be characterized using the descriptions below.

Good Water quality does not appear to have the potential to negatively affect human health.
Good/Fair One or more water quality indicators suggest the potential for human health impacts but human health impacts have not been reported.
Fair Water quality problems have caused measurable human impacts, but effects are localized and not widespread or persistent.
Fair/Poor Water quality problems have caused severe impacts that are either widespread or persistent.
Poor Water quality problems have caused severe, persistent, and widespread human impacts.


Question 8 (Water/Climate Change): Have recent, accelerated changes in climate altered water conditions and how are they changing?

The purpose of this question is to capture shifts in water quality, and associated impacts on sanctuary resources, due to climate change. Though temporal changes in climate have always occurred on Earth, evidence is strong that changes over the last century have been accelerated by human activities. Indicators of climate change in sanctuary waters include water temperature, acidity, sea level, upwelling intensity and timing, storm intensity and frequency, changes in erosion and sedimentation patterns, and freshwater delivery (e.g., rainfall patterns). Climate-related changes in one or more of these indicators can impact the condition of habitats, living resources, and maritime archaeological resources in sanctuaries.

Increasing water temperature has been linked to changing growth rates, reduced disease resistance, and disruptions in symbiotic relationships (e.g., bleaching on coral reefs), and changes in water temperature exposure may affect a species’ resistance or the capacity to adapt to disturbances. Acidification can affect the survival and growth of organisms throughout the food web, as well as the persistence of skeletal material after death (through changes in rates of dissolution and bioerosion). Recent findings also suggest acidification impacts at sensory and behavioral levels, which can alter vitality and species interactions. Sea level change alters habitats, as well as their use and persistence. Variations in the timing and intensity of upwelling is known to change water quality through factors such as oxygen content and nutrient flow, further disrupting food webs and the natural functioning of ecosystems. Changing patterns and intensities of storms alter community resistance and resilience within ecosystems that have, over long periods of time, adapted to such disturbances. Altered rates and volumes of freshwater delivery to coastal ecosystems affects salinity and turbidity regimes and can disrupt reproduction, recruitment, growth, disease incidence, phenology, and other important processes.

Good Climate-related changes in water conditions have not been documented or do not appear to have the potential to negatively affect ecological integrity.
Good/Fair Climate-related changes are suspected and may degrade some attributes of ecological integrity, but have not yet caused measurable degradation.
Fair Climate-related changes have caused measurable but not severe degradation in some attributes of ecological integrity.
Fair/Poor Climate-related changes have caused severe degradation in some but not all attributes of ecological integrity.
Poor Climate-related changes have caused severe degradation in most if not all attributes of ecological integrity.


Question 9 (Water/Other Stressors): Are other stressors, individually or in combination, affecting water quality, and how are they changing?

The purpose of this question is to capture shifts in water quality due to anthropogenic stressors not addressed in other questions. For example, localized changes in circulation or sedimentation resulting from coastal construction or dredge spoil disposal can affect light penetration, salinity regimes, oxygen levels, productivity, waste transport, and other aspects of water quality that in turn influence the condition of habitats and living resources. Human inputs, generally in the form of contaminants from point or non-point sources, including fertilizers, pesticides, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and sewage, are common causes of environmental degradation. When present in the water column, any of these contaminants can affect marine life by direct contact or ingestion, or through bioaccumulation via the food chain.

[Note: Over time, accumulation in sediments can sequester and concentrate contaminants. Their effects may manifest only when the sediments are resuspended during storm or other energetic events. In such cases, reports of status should be made under Question 11 — Habitat contaminants.]

Good Other stressors on water quality have not been documented, or do not appear to have the potential to negatively affect ecological integrity.
Good/Fair Selected stressors are suspected and may degrade some attributes of ecological integrity, but have not yet caused measurable degradation.
Fair Selected stressors have caused measurable but not severe degradation in some attributes of ecological integrity.
Fair/Poor Selected stressors have caused severe degradation in some but not all attributes of ecological integrity.
Poor Selected stressors have caused severe degradation in most if not all attributes of ecological integrity.

Habitat

Question 10 (Habitat/Integrity): What is the integrity of major habitat types and how are they changing?

Ocean habitats can be categorized in many different ways, including water column characteristics, benthic assemblages, substrate types, and structural character. There are intertidal and subtidal habitats. The water column itself is one habitat type (FGDC 2012). There are habitats composed of substrates formed by rocks or sand that originate from purely physical processes. And, there are certain animals and plants that create, in life or after their death, substrates that attract or support other organisms (e.g., corals, kelp, beach wrack, drift algae). These are commonly called biogenic habitats.

Regardless of the habitat type, change and loss of habitat is of paramount concern when it comes to protecting marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Of greatest concern to sanctuaries are changes to habitats caused, either directly or indirectly, by human activities. Human activities like coastal development alter the distribution of habitat types along the shoreline. Changes in water conditions in estuaries, bays, and nearshore waters can negatively affect biogenic habitat formed by submerged aquatic vegetation. Intertidal habitats can be affected for long periods by oil spills or by chronic pollutant exposure. Marine debris, such trash and lost fishing gear, can degrade the quality of many different marine habitats including, beaches, subtidal benthic habitats, and the water column. Sandy seafloor and hard bottom habitats, even rocky areas several hundred meters deep, can be disturbed or destroyed by certain types of fishing gear, including bottom trawls, shellfish dredges, bottom longlines, and fish traps. Groundings, anchors, and irresponsible diving practices damage submerged reefs. Cables and pipelines disturb corridors across numerous habitat types and can be destructive if they become mobile.

Integrity of biogenic habitats depends on the condition of particular living organisms. Coral, sponges, and kelp are well known examples of biogenic habitat-forming organisms. The diverse assemblages residing within these habitats depend on and interact with each other in tightly linked food webs. They may also depend on each other for the recycling of wastes, hygiene, and the maintenance of water quality. Other communities that are dependent on biogenic habitat include intertidal communities structured by mussels, barnacles, and algae and subtidal hard-bottom communities structured by bivalves, corals, or coralline algae. In numerous open ocean areas drift algal mats provide food and cover for juvenile fish, turtles, and other organisms. The integrity of these communities depends largely on the condition of species that provide structure for them.

This question is intended to address acute or chronic changes in both the extent of habitat available to organisms and the quality of that habitat, whether non-living or biogenic. It asks about the quality of habitats compared to those that would be expected in near-pristine conditions (see definition above).

Good Habitats are in near-pristine condition.
Good/Fair Selected habitat loss or alteration is suspected and may degrade some attributes of ecological integrity, but has not yet caused measurable degradation.
Fair Selected habitat loss or alteration has caused measurable but not severe degradation in some attributes of ecological integrity.
Fair/Poor Selected habitat loss or alteration has caused severe degradation in some but not all attributes of ecological integrity.
Poor Selected habitat loss or alteration has caused severe degradation in most if not all attributes of ecological integrity.


Question 11 (Habitat/Contaminants): What are contaminant concentrations in sanctuary habitats and how are they changing?

Habitat contaminants result from the introduction of unnatural levels of chemicals or other harmful material into the environment. Contaminants may be introduced through discrete entry locations, called point sources (e.g., rivers, pipes, or ships) and those with diffuse origins, called non-point sources (e.g., groundwater and urban runoff). Chemical contaminants themselves can be very specific, as in a spill from a containment facility or vessel grounding, or a complex mix, as with urban runoff. Familiar chemical contaminants include pesticides, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and nutrients. Contaminants may also arrive in the form of materials that alter turbidity or smother plants or animals, therefore affecting metabolism and production.

This question is focused on risks posed primarily by contaminants within benthic formations, such as soft sediments, hard bottoms, or structure-forming organisms (see notes below). Not only are contaminants within benthic formations consumed or absorbed by benthic fauna, but resuspension due to benthic disturbance makes the contaminants available to water column organisms. In both cases contaminants can be passed upwards through the food chain. While the contaminants of most common concern to sanctuaries are generally pesticides, hydrocarbons, and nutrients, the specific concerns of individual sanctuaries may differ substantially.

Notes: 1) contaminants in the water column addressed in the water quality section of this report should be cited, but details need not be repeated here; 2) many consider noise a pollutant, but in the interest of focusing here on more traditional forms of habitat degradation caused by contaminants, ONMS recommends addressing the impacts of acoustic pollution within the living resource section, most likely as it impacts key species.

Good Contaminants have not been documented, or do not appear to have the potential to negatively affect ecological integrity.
Good/Fair Selected contaminants are suspected and may degrade some attributes of ecological integrity, but have not yet caused measurable degradation.
Fair Selected contaminants have caused measurable but not severe degradation in some attributes of ecological integrity.
Fair/Poor Selected contaminants have caused severe degradation in some but not all attributes of ecological integrity.
Poor Selected contaminants have caused severe degradation in most if not all attributes of ecological integrity.

Living Resources

Question 12 (Living Resources/Keystone and Foundation Species): What is the status of keystone and foundation species and how is it changing?

Certain species are defined as “keystone” within ecosystems, meaning they are species on which the persistence of a large number of other species in the ecosystem depends (Paine 1966). They are the pillars of community stability (among other things, they strongly affect both resistance and resilience) and their contribution to ecosystem function is disproportionate to their numerical abundance or biomass. Their impact is therefore important at the community or ecosystem level. Keystone species are often called “ecosystem engineers” and can include habitat creators (e.g., corals, kelp), predators that control food web structure (e.g., Humboldt squid, sea otters), herbivores that regulate benthic recruitment (e.g., certain sea urchins), and those involved in critical symbiotic relationships (e.g., cleaning or co-habitating species).

“Foundation” species are single species that define much of the structure of a community by creating locally stable conditions for other species, and by modulating and stabilizing fundamental ecosystem processes (Dayton 1972). These are typically dominant biomass producers in an ecosystem and strongly influence the abundance and biomass of many other species. Examples include krill and other zooplankton, kelp, forage fish, such as rockfish anchovy, sardine, and coral. Foundation species exhibit similar control over ecosystems as keystone species, but their high abundance distinguishes them.

Changes in either keystone or foundation species may transform ecosystem structure through disappearances of or dramatic increases in the abundance of dependent species. Not only do the abundances of keystone and foundation species affect ecosystem integrity, but measures of condition can also be important to determining the likelihood that these species will persist and continue to provide vital ecosystem functions. Measures of condition may include growth rates, fecundity, recruitment, age-specific survival, contaminant loads, pathologies (e.g., disease incidence, tumors, deformities), the presence and abundance of critical symbionts, or parasite loads.

Good The status of keystone and foundation species appears to reflect near-pristine conditions and may promote ecological integrity (full community development and function).
Good/Fair The status of keystone or foundation species may preclude full community development and function, but has not yet led to measurable degradation.
Fair The status of keystone or foundation species suggests measurable but not severe degradation in some attributes of ecological integrity.
Fair/Poor The status of keystone and foundation species suggests severe degradation in some but not all attributes of ecological integrity.
Poor The status of keystone and foundation species suggests severe degradation in most if not all attributes of ecological integrity.


Question 13 (Living Resources/Other Focal Species): What is the status of other focal species and how is it changing?

This question targets other species of particular interest from the perspective of sanctuary management. These “focal species” may not be abundant or provide high value to ecosystem function, but their presence and health is important for the provision of other services, whether conservation, economic, or strategic. Examples include species targeted for special protection (e.g., threatened or endangered species), species for which specific regulations exist to minimize perturbations from human disturbance (e.g., touching corals, riding manta rays or whale sharks, disturbing white sharks, disturbing nesting birds), or indicator species (e.g., common murres as indicators of oil pollution). This category could also include so-called “flagship” species, which include charismatic or iconic species associated with specific locations, ecosystems or are in need of specific management actions, are highly popular and attract visitors or business, have marketing appeal, or represent rallying points for conservation action (e.g., humpback and blue whales, Dungeness crab).

Status of these other focal species can be assessed through measures of abundance, relative abundance, or condition, as described for keystone species in Question 12. In contrast to keystone and foundation species, however, the impact of changes in the abundance or condition of focal species is more likely to be observed at the population or individual level, and less likely to result in ecosystem or community effects.

Good Selected focal species appear to reflect near-pristine conditions.
Good/Fair Reduced abundances in selected focal species are suspected but have not yet been measured.
Fair Selected focal species are at reduced levels, but recovery is possible.
Fair/Poor Selected focal species are at substantially reduced levels, and prospects for recovery are uncertain.
Poor Selected focal species are at severely reduced levels, and recovery is unlikely.


Question 14 (Living Resources/Non-Indigenous Species): What is the status of non-indigenous species and how is it changing?

This question allows sanctuaries to report on the threat posed and impacts caused by non-indigenous species. Also called alien, exotic, non-native, or introduced species, these are animals or plants living outside their native distributional range, having arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. Activities that commonly facilitate invasions include vessel ballast water exchange, restaurant waste disposal, and trade in exotic species for aquaria. In some cases, climate change has resulted in water temperature fluctuations that have allowed range extensions for certain species.

Non-indigenous species that have damaging effects on ecosystems are called “invasive” species. Some can be extremely destructive, and because of this potential, non-indigenous species are usually considered problematic and warrant rapid response after invasion. For those that become established, however, their impacts can sometimes be assessed by quantifying changes in affected native species. In some cases, the presence of a species alone constitutes a significant threat (e.g., certain invasive algae and invertebrates). In other cases, impacts have been measured, and may or may not significantly affect ecosystem integrity.

Evaluating the potential impacts of non-indigenous species may require consideration of how climate change may enhance the recruitment, establishment, and/or severity of impacts of non-indigenous species. Altered temperature or salinity conditions, for example, may facilitate the range expansion, establishment and survival of non-indigenous species while stressing native species, thus reducing ecosystem resistance. This will also make management response decisions difficult, as changing conditions will make new areas even more hospitable for non-indigenous species targeted for removal.

Good Non-indigenous species are not suspected to be present or do not appear to affect ecological integrity (full community development and function).
Good/Fair Non-indigenous species are present and may preclude full community development and function, but have not yet caused measurable degradation.
Fair Non-indigenous species have caused measurable but not severe degradation in some attributes of ecological integrity.
Fair/Poor Non-indigenous species have caused severe degradation in some but not all attributes of ecological integrity.
Poor Non-indigenous species have caused severe degradation in most if not all attributes of ecological integrity.


Question 15 (Living Resources/Biodiversity): What is the status of biodiversity and how is it changing?

Broadly defined, biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth, and includes the diversity of ecosystems, species and genes, and the ecological processes that support them (United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity). This question is intended as an overall assessment of biodiversity compared to that expected in a near-pristine system (one as near to an unaltered ecosystem as people can reasonably expect, given that there are virtually no ecosystems completely free from human influence). It may include consideration of measures of biodiversity (usually aspects of species richness and evenness) and the status of functional interactions between species (e.g., trophic relationships and symbioses). Intact ecosystems require that all parts not only exist, but that they function together, resulting in natural symbioses, competition, predator-prey relationships, and redundancies (e.g., multiple species capable of performing the same ecological role). Intact structural elements, processes, and natural spatial and temporal variability are essential characteristics of community integrity and provide a natural adaptive capacity through resistance and resilience.

The response to this question will depend largely on changes in biodiversity that have occurred as a result of human activities that cause depletion, extirpation or extinction, illness, contamination, disturbance, and changes in environmental quality. Examples include collection of organisms, excessive visitation (e.g., trampling), industrial activities, coastal development, pollution, activities creating noise in the marine environment, and those that promote the spread of non-indigenous species.

Loss of species or changing relative abundances can be mediated through selective mortality or changing fecundity, either of which can influence ecosystem shifts. Human activities of particular interest in this regard are commercial and recreational harvesting. Both can be highly selective and disruptive activities, with a limited number of targeted species, and often result in the removal of high proportions of the populations, as well as large amounts of untargeted species (bycatch). Extraction removes biomass from the ecosystem, reducing its availability to other consumers. When too much extraction occurs, ecosystem stability can be compromised through long-term disruptions to food web structure, as well as changes in species relationships and related functions and services (e.g. cleaning symbioses). This has been defined as “ecologically unsustainable” extraction (Zabel et al. 2003).

Good Biodiversity appears to reflect near-pristine conditions and promotes ecological integrity (full community development and function).
Good/Fair Selected biodiversity loss or change is suspected and may preclude full community development and function, but has not yet caused measurable degradation.
Fair Selected biodiversity loss or change has caused measurable but not severe degradation in some attributes of ecological integrity.
Fair/Poor Selected biodiversity loss or change has caused severe degradation in some but not all attributes of ecological integrity.
Poor Selected biodiversity loss or change has caused severe degradation in most if not all attributes of ecological integrity.

Maritime Heritage Resources

Question 16 (Maritime Heritage Resources/Condition): What is the condition of known maritime heritage resources and how is it changing?

Maritime heritage resources are the wide variety of tangible and intangible elements (archaeological, cultural, historical properties) that reflect our human connections to Great Lakes and ocean areas.

Maritime heritage resources include archaeological and historical properties, and material evidence of past human activities, including vessels, aircraft, structures, habitation sites, and objects created or modified by humans. The condition of these resources in a marine sanctuary significantly affects their value for science and education, as well as the resource’s eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The “integrity” of archaeological/historical resources, as defined within the National Register criteria, refers to their ability to help scientists answer questions about the past through archaeological research. Historical significance of an archaeological resource depends on its integrity and/or its representativeness of past events that made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history, its association with important persons, or its embodiment of a distinctive type or architecture.

Maritime heritage resources also include certain culturally significant resources, locations and viewsheds, the condition of which may change over time. Such resources, often more intangible in nature, may still be central to traditional practices and maintenance of cultural identity. The integrity of both cultural resources and cultural locations are included within the National Register criteria.

Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to inventory, assess, and nominate appropriate maritime heritage resources (“historic properties”) to the National Register. The Maritime Cultural Landscape approach, adopted by the sanctuary system, provides a comprehensive tool for the assessment of archaeological, historical and cultural (maritime heritage) resources.

Assessments of heritage resources include evaluation of the apparent condition, which results from deterioration caused by human and natural forces (unlike questions about water, habitat, and living resources, the non-renewable nature of many heritage resources makes any reduction in integrity and condition, even if caused by natural forces, permanent). While maritime heritage resources have intrinsic value, these values may be diminished by changes to their condition.

Good Known maritime heritage resources appear to reflect little or no unexpected natural or human disturbance.
Good/Fair Selected maritime heritage resources exhibit indications of natural or human disturbance, but there appears to have been little or no reduction in aesthetic, cultural, historical, archaeological, scientific, or educational value.
Fair The diminished condition of selected maritime heritage resources has reduced, to some extent, their aesthetic, cultural, historical, archaeological, scientific, or educational value, and may affect the eligibility of some sites for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Fair/Poor The diminished condition of selected maritime heritage resources has substantially reduced their aesthetic, cultural, historical, archaeological, scientific, or educational value, and is likely to affect their eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Poor The degraded condition of known maritime heritage resources in general makes them ineffective in terms of aesthetic, cultural, historical, archaeological, scientific, or educational value, and precludes their listing in the National Register of Historic Places.