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How do MEBM Initiatives Monitor and Evaluate Progress?

Measured Success

Suites of Indicators – While most projects collect at least some data that can be used to monitor progress, many MEBM initiatives developed a set of metrics or indicators that together can be used to assess ecosystem status and trends.

Suites of Indicators

  • The Albermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program proposed 150 indicators that could be used to monitor estuary health and determine whether the program was meeting its goals. They narrowed the list to 24 indicators to be used in its 2012 Ecosystem Assessment. Indicators included measurements of key species, human settlements, and water and air quality characteristics.
  • The Georgia Basin-Puget Sound initiative developed a set of nine indicators to assess the overall health of the ecosystem: air quality; marine species at risk; marine water quality; population health; river, stream and lake quality; shellfish; solid waste and recycling; toxics in harbor seals; and urbanization and forest change. The indicators were measured by the participating agencies in British Columbia and Washington state.
  • An Ecosystem Indicator Partnership assisted the Gulf of Maine Council in developing indicators that focused on coastal development; contaminants and pathogens; eutrophication; aquatic habitat; fisheries and aquaculture; and climate change.
Indicators Related to Ecosystem Management – Many initiatives identified integrative indicators for assessing ecosystem health and that can be used to track program effectiveness.  Some identified indicators that tracked levels of management effort as indicated by funding levels or changes in policy.

Indicators Related to Ecosystem Management

  • The Narragansett Bay National Estuary Program identified a host of indicators to measure water and habitat quality, and living resources. Notably, the program also identified explicit indicators of ecosystem management, which included tracking the amount of state and federal funding for environmental initiatives, the availability of monitoring data and ecological assessments, and any actions within the watershed to upgrade wastewater treatment or sewerage systems.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Program used pre-existing monitoring data to assemble a water quality benchmark that considered three metrics: concentrations of chlorophyll a, dissolved oxygen, and water clarity. The program also rated the bay’s bottom habitat using the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity, which considers presence of worms, small fish, and shellfish that have limited mobility and are sensitive to stresses in the ecosystem.
  • The Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation developed indicators of ecosystem health using surveys of birds found dead on the beach, and the proportion that died as a result of oil pollution. An ecosystem vitality indicator was measured by surveys of harbor seals, which are keystone species.
  • The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve developed a monitoring plan that incorporated metrics relating to national estuarine environmental trends and issues of local concern, which included measurements of water quality, submerged and emergent vegetation, stream fish, and aquatic insects.
  • Scientists working for the Babeldaob Island Ecosystem-Based Management Initiative (Palau) developed a suite of indicators that measured species richness and abundance; sedimentation rates at coral reefs and estuaries; extent of seagrasses at several locations; and turbidity, nutrient levels, and dissolved oxygen amounts in water. In addition, indicator species were selected, such as aquatic macroinvertebrates in freshwater streams.
Target Values of Indicators – Monitoring conservation targets allowed several initiatives to assess progress in meeting their objectives. Measurable goals defined in terms of target values of indicators at particular points in time provided a clear standard for judging success.

Target Values of Indicators

  • With a primary goal of increasing fish stocks in four targeted areas by 10 percent, the Philippines FISH Project conducted baseline monitoring and then assessed its progress at meeting that goal with stock measurements taken at regular intervals.
  • Ninety specific goals were established in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, many of which set out specific measurable targets. Examples include: to achieve by 2010, a tenfold increase in native oysters based on a 1994 baseline; to protect and restore 114,000 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation; by 2010, to expand by 30 percent the number of public access points to the Bay.
  • The Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem Project set an objective to reduce fishing effort by 25 to 30 percent in several fisheries by 2020 to allow over-exploited stocks to rebuild and create a more sustainable fishery. To achieve that objective, China and South Korea agreed to implement several strategies, such as reducing the number of fishing vessels through boat buy-back programs and offering job retraining for fishermen. 

Learned and Adapted to Change

Changed Conservation Targets or Management Strategies – By evaluating the effectiveness of their strategies, several projects learned from their experiences. They acted on new information to change strategies that either did not work, or they discovered ways to improve their strategies. These initiatives can be seen as engaging in passive adaptive management, in which they used monitoring and evaluation to learn about key elements of their strategy and adjust it accordingly.

Changed Conservation Targets or Management Strategies

  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park rezoned and expanded the areas that are off-limits to fishing after evaluating scientific assessments that questioned whether conservation goals were being met.
  • Adopting the recommendation of an external evaluation, the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation in 2010 updated its conservation priorities to focus on climate change, invasive species and the decline of bird populations and fisheries.
Changed Governance Structures or Social Process Strategies – Some projects responded to insights gleaned from evaluation activities to change their structure, operating procedures or ways of engaging stakeholder groups.

Changed Governance Structures or Social Process Strategies

  • After receiving a Congressionally-mandated external evaluation, the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative changed the criteria it used to fund local restoration projects, making the criteria more flexible to incentivize local ingenuity and enthusiasm.
  • Following an external evaluation, the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation created a new governance structure in 2010 that clarified the roles of advisory bodies and added a new body of appointed government staff that would be better able to attend to the governance needs of the initiative.
  • In evaluating what worked and what did not, Gulf of Maine Council members said that activities outlined in the council’s prior action plan were too limiting and did not provide enough flexibility for the council to adapt to changing policies and needs of participating agencies.
Conducted Experiments – Some MEBM initiatives implementing strategies or actions as experiments, which allowed projects to test hypotheses and develop new ways of accomplishing their goals. In this way, they could be seen as carrying out a process of active adaptive management.

Conducted Experiments

  • The Elkhorn Slough Tidal Wetland Project implemented a habitat restoration project with an experimental design to reduce tidal scour in a salt marsh. The project was designed not to interfere with aquatic life or be visible to kayakers. Before the installation, baseline information was collected. The project can be reversed, and is seen as a pilot to inform a larger-scaled habitat restoration effort.
  • The San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance (SLOSEA) implemented an experimental project to remove invasive bryozoans. The project found eradicating them only allowed another invasive species to take their place. As a result, SLOSEA abandoned the strategy.

Disseminated Monitoring Information or Evaluation Products

Report Cards or Fact Sheets – Reports cards or fact sheets written in a style accessible to the public and parties interested in the initiatives provided easy-to-read summaries with graphics showing the status and trends of the respective marine resources.  They pushed initiatives to summarize their progress in a succinct way and were a tool for communicating with decision makers and the public.

Report Cards or Fact Sheets

  • The National Estuary Program Coastal Condition Report produced a report card for the Albermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program using data collected at 66 sites sampled in the estuary in 2000 and 2001.
  • The National Marine Sanctuary Program produces a Condition Report for each marine sanctuary, which presents responses to a uniform set of questions posed to all sanctuaries. The responses rely on mostly quantitative assessments from sanctuary staff – though non-quantitative data can be included – as well as observations from scientists, managers and resource users.
  • The Gulf of Maine Council’s Ecosystem Indicator Partnership has produced fact sheets for decision-makers and members of the public, detailing snapshots of data that relate to seven indicators of ecosystem health.
White Papers – White papers provided resource managers with information to make decisions grounded in science.

White Papers

  • The Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) of the Albermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program provided regular one- to two-page White Papers to link science to management decisions. The papers discussed recommendations by the STAC and identified the underlying scientific reasoning. Recent White Papers focused on recommendations to adjust program boundaries to facilitate ecosystem-based management, and monitoring related to climate change.

This material should be cited as: "Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, Marine Ecosystem-Based Management in Practice (Ann Arbor MI: School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, June 2012),"