Most monitoring of Atlantic and Pacific coastal ecosystems does not “provide the information needed to understand the condition of the marine environment or to assess the effects of human activity on it,” a National Research Council committee has found. The committee reported its work in Managing Troubled Waters: The Role of Marine Environmental Engineering, recently released by the NRC.
The ideal comprehensive monitoring syst em would help avert coastal environmental disasters, the committee said, noting that closed beaches, contaminated waters and sediments, restricted shellfish beds, and ailing fisheries persist even though numerous monitoring programs have been in place for some time. Federal mandates for marine environmental monitoring have been in effect since the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1890. The committe noted that “results have usually been disappointing, and many examples of overlapping, fragmentary, and unrelated monitoring efforts remain.” They suggest a stronger national focus, through periodic reports to Congress that evaluate the monitoring program, the state of the nation's marine environment, and policies that protect it.