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Assessing the Health of Coastal Ecosystems: Adequacy of Coastal Observations and the Implementation of the Coastal Component of the US IOOS

Thomas C. Malone

Professor, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Director, Ocean.US Office for Integrated and Sustained Ocean Observations

It is becoming increasing clear that the goals and missions of government agencies responsible for environmental protection, resource management and coastal zone management can only be achieved through ecosystem-based, adaptive management. Adaptive management depends on the capability to assess and anticipate changes in the status of coastal ecosystems and living resources on local to national scales and to do so repeatedly, routinely and quantitatively at rates required for decision making. We do not have this capacity today, not because we lack the technologies and knowledge, but because adaptive management requires an integrated, operational system that efficiently links monitoring, data management, and data analysis to the needs of decision makers.

EMAP and its STAR program exemplify the problem. These important research efforts focus on developing indicators that can be used to assess changes in the condition of the nation's ecosystems and to predict their consequences. Now is the time to take the next step. Establish an integrated observing system for the guaranteed provision of data and information required to compute key indicators repeatedly and routinely on time scales required for ecosystem-based adaptive management of human activities from alterations of nutrient and water cycles to modifying habitats and harvesting marine resources. This is a goal of the IDDS, successful development of which depends on making more effective use of and enhancing existing assets and programs through multi-agency coordination and collaboration. The recent commitment of EPA to engage in the development of the IDDS as both a data provider and user marks an important milestone in this regard.

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