The National Marine Ecosystem Status web portal provides the status of marine ecosystems across the U.S. and access to NOAA ecosystem indicator information and data. Check out this presentation to walk through how you can access information on this site.
Definition of indicators: Ecosystem indicators are quantitative and/or qualitative measures of key components of the ecosystem. Marine ecosystems provide food, jobs, security, well-being, and other services to millions of people across the U.S. Yet, marine ecosystems and the people that rely on them are facing increasingly complex challenges. Tracking the status and trends of ocean and coastal ecosystems is critically important to understand how these ecosystems are changing and identify potential issues.
Understanding the status of key components of the ecosystem including human activities and well-being is essential because of the interlinkages between components. For example, broad-scale climate patterns such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) impact the temperature of the ocean. These broad-scale climate patterns interact with shorter scale climate to impact plankton by changing what species are present, how they grow, and where they are. Phytoplankton are often measured by chlorophyll-a and serve the base of the food web. Primary consumers such as zooplankton and small pelagic fish eat phytoplankton. Larger fish eat zooplankton and other small fish. Marine mammals then feed on plankton, smaller, and larger fish. Humans consume seafood from across the ecosystem. Humans also rely on various ocean services such as tourism, seafood, and recreational activities for employment, recreation, and income.
Marine environments are important for people all across the country, but particularly so for people living in coastal communities. In the United States, coastal counties account for 39 percent of the total population (NOS). There are hundreds of thousands of ocean-dependent business establishments in these communities, employing millions of people and paying over $100 billion in wages annually. Employment in the ocean economy, including recreation, tourism, travel, and seafood industries, continues to grow faster than the U.S. economy as a whole.
Challenges to the Ecosystem
This ocean economy and human welfare more broadly are impacted by overfished stocks, hurricanes and other natural disasters which can cost billions of dollars, loss of threatened and endangered species, and beach closures. Overfishing is when the annual rate of catch of fish and other animals is too high and impacts businesses, the availability of seafood, and more. The number of weather and climate-related disasters exceeding 1 billion dollars, termed a billion-dollar disaster, has increased in the United States since 1980. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range or threatened if it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. These iconic species are important not only for coastal tourism such as whale watching but also critical for ecosystem functioning. Beach closures occur when beach water quality is determined to be unsafe for humans, which can have significant impacts on human health, the economy, and the ecosystem.
These key ecosystem components, from sea surface temperature to coastal tourism, are interconnected. Therefore, it is important to track the status and trends of these components to understand the current state of U.S. marine ecosystems.