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Assessing the Quality of Estuarine Habitats in South Carolina Using Integrated Measures of Environmental and Biotic Condition

Robert F. Van Dolah 1, David E. Chestnut 2; George H.M. Riekerk 1, and Pamela C. Jutte 1

1 Marine Resources Research Institute, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Charleston, SC
2 Bureau of Water, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), Columbia, SC

The South Carolina Estuarine and Coastal Assessment Program (SCECAP) developed a multi-metric measure of overall habitat condition using multiple measures of water quality, sediment quality, and biotic condition. The water quality integrated measure averages scores for six parameters (DO, pH, TN, TP, BOD, and fecal bacteria) compared to state water quality standards or exceedance of historical averages above 75th and 90th percentiles. The sediment quality score averages an integrated measure of 24 contaminants relative to bioeffects guidelines (ERM-Q) and results from multiple sediment bioassays. The biotic condition measure utilizes scores from a benthic index of biotic integrity (B-IBI) developed for the region. Each of the average scores derived from these components are again averaged to provide an overall index of habitat condition that is coded into three general condition levels (degraded, marginal, good) with a specific numeric score within those levels to allow better resolution of overall condition. Using this approach, 12% of the state's tidal creek habitat and 8% of the larger open water habitat coded as marginal during 1999-2000. All marginal sites had at least two of the subcategories that were marginal or poor. None of the sites sampled during the first two years had an overall rating of poor. Threshold criteria for characterizing overall habitat condition are currently under review and any modifications in scoring process will be presented.

Keywords: water quality, sediment quality, biotic condition, integrated measures

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