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Developing Science-Based Indicator Portfolios For National Marine Sanctuary Condition Reports

One of the initial challenges of ecosystem-based management centers on developing a balanced understanding of an ecosystem's "state," or the status and trends of driving forces, pressures, and resources. NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has approached this challenge by developing condition reports, a tool that provides a standardized summary of resources, pressures, and driving forces in a sanctuary. Condition reports were developed to be site-specific, and rely heavily on expert opinion and the availability of locally relevant data. However, reviewers have called for a more transparent approach that relies more heavily on quantitative indicators derived from regional monitoring data, supplemented by the qualitative interpretations derived from expert opinion and local knowledge.

In this report, we describe the evolving collaboration between the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries' and NOAA Fisheries' scientists within the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA) team to translate a national integrated ecosystem assessment (IEA) indicator screening and assessment framework to the scale of a sanctuary. Our goal was to create a process to identify and prioritize quantitative, habitat-based indicators of ecosystem status and trends to be incorporated into condition reports for Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). This process compiled, categorized, and screened indicators, and resulted in indicator portfolios and conceptual models for each of the sanctuary's eight major habitat categories.

The indicator portfolios produced through this effort supported the 2015 partial update to the MBNMS condition report (ONMS 2015) and improved its transparency and rigor. Furthermore, the process highlighted a variety of useful lessons regarding: (1) the value of organizing an indicator selection framework around habitat categories; (2) using systematic methods to improve the consistency and repeatability of indicator selection; (3) using visual methods for improving the communication of key ecosystem concepts; (4) fostering broad multidisciplinary collaborations and uncovering regional data; and (5) how to highlight data gaps and future research priorities for management. These lessons were then applied in a subsequent effort at Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) to select habitat-based indicators and develop conceptual models, which informed a substantially improved update to that sanctuary's condition report (ONMS 2018b). This document codifies the indicator development process in order to facilitate a more consistent approach to documenting the status and trends of driving forces, pressures, and resources in ecosystems throughout the ONMS network.

Key Words

Ecosystem-based management, ecosystem, integrated ecosystem assessment (IEA), condition report, status, trends, indicator, habitat