Ecosystem Health

The use of a goal such as ecosystem health to guide fishery management forces resource scientists and managers to define ecosytem states, typically based on historical information reflecting ecosystem structure and yield.

Ecosystem Report to Congress, 1999

Defining a "healthy" ecosystem is not an easy task. Managers can look back at the historical structure and function of a system then use this "healthy" state as a baseline to quantify subsequent degradation. A more feasible approach, involves identifying the "unhealthy" states of an ecosystem that should be avoided, i.e. preventing low biodiversity, high estuarine nutrient levels, low mean trophic levels, etc.

To develop indices of ecosystem health for the South Atlantic, the Council has identified critical research needs. Among them are:

  • Determining the causes of Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB).
  • Identifying useful biological indicators to assess stress on estuarine systems.
  • Developing long-term coordinated monitoring programs to document natural and human-induced variability in estuarine systems.
  • Documenting the status and trends of estuarine fauna and their contaminant loads.
  • Better characterizing the sources and impacts of nutrient inputs to rivers and estuaries.
  • Better characterizing the sources and impacts of contaminant inputs to rivers and estuaries.

Related Sites

Wando shoreline SC04.jpgSoutheast US Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem - This interactive Web site developed by the Sea Around US Project provides information related to ecosystem health of the region, as well as, fisheries, productivity, pollution, and governance.

Feb. 2004 Ecosystem Indicator Symposium - Review papers and links from the symposium held to support scientific aspects of using indicators for an ecosystem approach to fisheries.

National Benthic Inventory (NBI) - The NBI consists of a quantitative database on benthic species distributions and a corresponding taxonomic reference collection of preserved benthic specimens obtained from studies conducted by NOAA and partnering institutions.

National Status and Trends Program (NS&T):Monitoring Data - This Web site highlights research projects of the Center of Coastal Monitoring and Assessment. Projects involve monitoring and analyzing biological and chemical contaminant trends of several species.

Environmental Protection Agency's PIVOT program - The PIVOT module for the National Estuary Program (NEP) highlights common habitat degradation and loss problems faced by NEP communities around the country.

EPA Status of Watersheds - The EPA Surf Your Watershed Web site is a service to help you locate, use, and share environmental information about your state and watershed.

"Florida's Geology Makes Wastewater Disposal a Potential Threat to Ecosystem Health in the Florida Keys"

South Carolina Estuarine and Coastal Assessment Program (SCECAP) -- A cooperative multi-agency program designed to assess the condition of South Carolina's coastal zone.