SaintJoe H2O

How would you measure ecosystem health?

First off, let me re-introduce myself to people who may be close to a decade younger than me whom I've never met. My name is Nicole Rohr, I am a 2001 graduate of Lafayette High School, and I was in the 2001 class of mar bio (followed by four more trips down with Sean et al. and I worked for 6 months on South Andros at Tiamo Resorts). Currently, I am a 4th year PhD Candidate at the University of Rhode Island and I specialize in the effects of invasive species on marine intertidal/subtidal community interactions with the purpose of entering into a career in marine policy.

I recently completed an internship at the Center for Ocean Solutions in Monterey, CA, and worked with a team of scientists, lawyers, and policymakers on developing ecological indicators for ecosystem based management....what?!?!

Marine management is starting to move from single species management (think fishing regulations on a single species of fish - like tuna) to ecosystem based management (EBM). EBM seeks to protect ecosystem health of the ENTIRE system because a healthy system supports healthy cirtters. Not only that, but many studies have shown that healthy coastal ecosystems support healthy (physically and economically) healthy humans.

The best way to do this? Completely leave marine ecosystems alone to exist how they naturally exist without human pressures. Not feasible. The truth is the humans rely on the marine environment for a whole slew of things including protection from storm surges, erosion prevention, commercially valuable fisheries, oil and natural gas, a place to go boating for the day, SCUBA/snorkel, or simply a place to look at and feel like the world is a pretty fantastic place - there is no way to disconnect the two. To that end, marine spatial management (MSM) is a type of EBM that seeks to manage humans and the environment together by regulating what human activities can occur in what areas.

Great! Fantastic! But how do you determine what human uses can co-exist with which environment types? That answer has been debated for years with no clear answer and high tensions! The Center for Ocean Solutions is attempting to tackle this issue starting in their state waters - starting with how to determine ecosystem health. My team and myself convened a group of scientists from around the country to talk about which ecological factors are most important for determining marine ecosystem health.

We decided on:
habitat diversity
key species
species diversity.

How do you measure these things? Seriously, is there a measurement for connectivity? And, once you assess if an ecosystem is "healthy" according to these guiding principles then how do you determine compatibility with human uses?!? Stay tuned...those are up next on my to-do list.

To read more about the work I did, check this out: foley_etal2010_MP (1).pdf

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