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Ecological indicators are scientific measures (parameters or values) that can be used to assess the ecological status and trends in the health of ecosystems and their component parts. The development and use of ecological indicators for the Gulf of Mexico is being accelerated substantially because of the recognition by governments, policy makers and researchers that the growing problems of the Gulf need to be solved holistically, so that conservation, restoration and management activities can be monitored and assessed, and alternate programs and policies to sustain the Gulf’s well-being can be implemented. Several studies and research currently indicates that the Gulf of Mexico is sick. For example, in 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called the Gulf the dirtiest coastal body of water in America. Industrial and coastal development coupled with population growth, overfishing, harmful algal blooms, and pollution take a substantial part of the blame. As such, the region’s $20 billion tourism industry is at risk, coral reefs are being devastated and coastlines are sinking. Ecological conditions in the Gulf of Mexico show that 50% of its estuaries show signs of degradation.
Common ecological indicators being monitored and used are water clarity, dissolved oxygen, coastal wetland loss, benthic condition, sediment contaminants, fish tissue contaminants and eutrophic condition. The published Coastal Condition Reports indicate that for several areas in the Gulf of Mexico estuaries, less than 10% of surface light penetrates to a depth of 1 meter. The Environmental Monitoring & Assessment Program (EMAP) has focused its coastal monitoring efforts on the Gulf of Mexico estuaries from 1991 –1999 and estimated that about 4% of the bottom waters in the Gulf estuaries had hypoxic conditions. A score of poor is also recorded for the following in the Gulf of Mexico from the Coastal Condition Reports: benthic condition, coastal wetland loss, sediment loss and fish tissue contamination. To ensure that increasing degradation to the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem is monitored, controlled and even does not occur, NOAA’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment in the US, is periodically taking measurement data from several Gulf of Mexico locations. Various institutions in the region, like the Consortium for Estuarine Ecoindicator Research for the Gulf of Mexico, are undertaking research studies to develop and validate indicators that could be used to describe the health of the Gulf of Mexico.
The most intense indicator development and use of ecological indicators in the region is taking place at the ecosystem level, but there is considerable activity developing species, condition and stressor indicators as well.
Naplesnews. Deep Trouble - The Gulf in Peril: Viewed on the web on March 29, 2004 at: http://web.naplesnews.com/deeptrouble/deeptrouble3.html
National Coastal Condition Report. Viewed on the web on March 29, 2004 at: href='http://www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/nccr/index.html
Onegulf.org. Viewed on the web on March 29, 2004 at: http://www.onegulf.org/Value%20of%20the%20Gulf.pdf
State of the Science Ecological Indicators Report. Viewed on the web on March 29, 2004 at: http://www.ecological-indicators.org/report.asp
Coastal Institute - Ecological Indicators Workshop
Ecological Indicators for the Nation
Keywords: Water clarity, Dissolved oxygen, Coastal, Wetland loss, Benthic, Sediment, Contaminant, Eutrophic
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