Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ecosystem Modeling to Inform Management

Marine Ecosystem Food Web from NOAA's Website
Managing the coastal environment and activities that affect it requires understanding the dynamics of the coast and the life within it.   Decisions based on only a single species or narrow considerations of the environment can have unintended consequences.  Before large scale offshore projects are approved, the overall impacts need to be known.  A big picture perspective that includes key components of the environment is needed for effective ecosystem based management. 

For example, fish abundance and the type of fish present in coastal area depends on currents, water temperature and salinity, availability of food and hiding areas, presence of predators and pollution.  Looking at only a few of these components in isolation does not reflect what actually happens in the environment.

Knowing how physical, biological and geochemical  components interact is critical for predicting impacts of different policy decisions and actions.  Given that there are so many different components to the environment and interactions between these, ecosystem modeling is a useful tool to put it all the pieces together.

Models are like a map which serves to represent reality and can help guide us how to get to where we want to go.  Models are only as useful as the quality of the data and assumptions that they are built on.  Significant advances have been made in modeling capabilities and making them easier to set up and use, and multiple models are useful to evaluate management decisions. 

Models can replicate historic changes and be used to assess relative impacts of human actions and environmental changes and improve efforts to predict future changes. 

Its important that stakeholders and the public have the opportunity to be involved in modeling process that inform management decisions to ensure that models are directed and used effectively. 

COA recently attended an ecosystem modeling workshop. Click here for more information.

Underwater video produced using ecosystem modeling information on Chesapeake Bay

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