Home > Explore Projects > Identifying Ecological Condition Indicators for the West Coast Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
NCCOS Research Project

Identifying Ecological Condition Indicators for the West Coast Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

This project began in July 2018 and will be completed in July 2019.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries periodically evaluates the condition of their marine resources. Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) will begin this process in 2019. This project will support OCNMS by identifying biological, chemical or physical measurements (i.e., ecological indicators) that can be used to track resource trends over time. These indicators are critical for identifying new threats to resources, and developing targeted management strategies moving forward. 

Why We Care

Visitors enjoy Rialto Beach along the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Credit: NOAA.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) encompasses about 3,189 square miles off the Washington coast, extending from Cape Flattery to the mouth of the Copalis River. This area includes significant living marine resources, including 29 species of marine mammals (whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea otters), large populations of nesting seabirds, and some of the last remaining wilderness coastline in the lower 48 states. The sanctuary also helps protect cultural and maritime heritage resources, including shipwrecks and cultural artifacts from Washington’s Coastal Treaty Tribes. The presence of these natural, historic and cultural resources attract tourists and boost the local economy, supporting over 1,000 jobs and generating $46 million in revenue for businesses and the nearby community. Communities along the Washington coast consequently depend on the sanctuary to safeguard these valuable marine resources. Effective protection requires that the sanctuary periodically evaluate the condition of living marine resources and habitats, and understand the trends associated with them over time. An improved understanding of the sanctuary’s condition is critical because it allows the sanctuary mangers to identify and address new and emerging threats to these resources in the context of a management plan review process, which is intended to begin once the condition report is complete. It has been a decade since the last condition report was compiled in 2008.  Since then, the Olympic Coast region has experienced considerable and widespread ecosystem change. To better understand and respond to these changes, the Sanctuary is scheduled to develop an updated condition report beginning in 2019. Condition reports provide a summary of sanctuary marine resources and habitats, key pressures on those resources, their current condition and trends, their role in providing ecosystem services valuable to communities, and management responses to address pressures that may threaten the integrity of the marine environment.  Condition reports include information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources and maritime archaeological resources and the human activities that affect them. The reporting process is outlined here.

What We Are Doing

The objective of this project is to help Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary staff to identify: (1) relevant ecological condition indicators and (2) readily available physical, biological and chemical datasets that can be used to characterize the current condition of sanctuary resources. Ecological condition indicators are biological, chemical or physical measurements that can be used to track resource trends over time. Indicators are linked to specific questions in the condition report (e.g., What are contaminant concentrations in sanctuary habitats and how are they changing?). These questions and indicators are critical for measuring the state of habitats and resources within sanctuary boundaries, and for developing targeted management strategies for addressing any resource declines. Ecological indicators for OCNMS will be cross-referenced with those developed by the State of Washington, and with indicators used in the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA) process. Indicators will also be vetted and refined during on-site meetings with local experts and partners, including the four Coastal Treaty Tribes that have lived along this coast since ‘time immemorial’. Datasets relevant for tracking ecosystem conditions will be identified and evaluated at these meetings, and any data gaps encountered will be cataloged. No datasets will be acquired, processed or analyzed. Project deliverables will include a technical report summarizing the project findings. While this project will focus primarily on scientific support for OCNMS, project staff will also work closely with other sanctuary site within the west coast region, including Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), to leverage their recent efforts  to develop more transparent, consistent, and quantitative metrics for condition reports. NCCOS will also engage Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary (CBNMS) and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS) to ensure this work dovetails with their future condition reporting efforts, which are expected to occur in 2019 and beyond.

Benefits of Our Work

This updated understanding is critical because it allows the sanctuary mangers to identify and address new and emerging threats to these resources in the context of a management plan review process, which is intended to begin once the condition report is complete.

Additional Resources

Click to expand resource list(s).

Products, Datasets & Reports

Final products from this project will include a NOAA technical memorandum, describing relevant ecological condition indicators and information gaps, and readily-available datasets.

News & Feature Stories

Related Links

Explore Similar Projects
No posts found.
NCCOS-with-tag-to-side-bld

NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources, in direct support of NOS priorities, offices, and customers, and to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
1305 East West Highway, Rm 8110
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: (240) 533-0300 / Fax: (301) 713-4353
Email: nccos.webcontent@noaa.gov

    Sign Up for Our Quarterly Newsletter