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 or click on "How to Use this Website" above 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 and Great Lakes ecosystems provide food, jobs, security, well-being, and other services to millions of people across the U.S. Yet, marine and Great Lakes ecosystems and the people that rely on them are facing increasingly complex challenges. Tracking the status and trends of ocean, Great Lakes 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 water. 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 and Great Lakes 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 and Great Lakes-dependent business establishments in these communities, employing millions of people and paying over $100 billion in wages annually. Employment in the ocean and Great Lakes 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 and Great Lakes 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 components, from sea surface temperature to coastal tourism, are all interconnected and play important roles in the overall functioning of these ecosystems. This philosophy, which considers human and physical-chemical indicators that affect biological components of an ecosystem, all as an integrated whole, is known as an “ecosystem-based” approach. More information about this can be found on the “Ecosystem-Based Management” tab. By tracking the status and trends of these components over time, this information can help us to better understand the current state of all parts of U.S. marine ecosystems.