Sea sick? Setting targets to assess ocean health and ecosystem services

Authors

  • Jameal F. Samhouri,

    Corresponding author
    1. Conservation Biology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2725 Montlake Boulevard E, Seattle, Washington 98112 USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Sarah E. Lester,

    1. Marine Science Institute and Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-6150 USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Elizabeth R. Selig,

    1. Science + Knowledge Division, Conservation International, 2011 Crystal Drive Suite 500, Arlington, Virginia 22202 USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Benjamin S. Halpern,

    1. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 735 State Street, Suite 300, Santa Barbara, California 93101 USA
    2. Center for Marine Assessment and Planning, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106 USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Michael J. Fogarty,

    1. Ecosystem Assessment Program, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02453 USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Catherine Longo,

    1. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 735 State Street, Suite 300, Santa Barbara, California 93101 USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Karen L. McLeod

    1. COMPASS, Oregon State University, Department of Zoology, Corvallis Oregon 97331-2914 USA
    Search for more papers by this author

  • Corresponding Editor: D. P. C. Peters.

Abstract

The benefits provided by a healthy ocean are receiving increasing attention in policy and management spheres. A fundamental challenge with assessing ocean health and ecosystem services is that we lack a scientific framework for expressing ecosystem conditions quantitatively in relation to management goals. Here we outline and operationalize a conceptual framework for identifying meaningful reference points and quantifying the current ecosystem state relative to them. The framework requires clear articulation of management goals and is built on a review of current scientific understanding and assessment of data availability. It develops a structured approach for choosing among three classes of reference points, including: (1) functional relationships that establish the ocean state that can be produced and sustained under different environmental conditions, (2) time series approaches that compare current to previous capacities to obtain a particular ocean state in a specific location, and (3) spatial reference points that compare current capacities to achieve a desired ocean state across regional (or, if necessary, global) scales. We illustrate this general framework through the lens of ocean health defined in terms of a coupled social-ecological system, with examples from fisheries, marine livelihoods, and water quality in the USA. Assessment of ocean health and ecosystem services can be significantly influenced by the choice of indicators used to track changes in a management goal, the type of reference point selected, and how one measures the distance of the current state from the reference point. This framework provides flexible, standardized methods for evaluating ocean health and ecosystem services that can advance important components of ecosystem-based management, including marine spatial planning, ecosystem service valuation, and integrated ecosystem assessments.

Ancillary