Marine Science Faculty Publications

Roundtable Discussion Groups Summary Papers: Environmental Bio-Indicators in Coral Reef Ecosystems: the Need to Align Research, Monitoring, and Environmental Regulation

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Editors' Note:

At the 14th International Conference on Environmental Bioindicators (14th ICEBI) held in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, USA on 24–26 April 2006, the Conference Chairs and Program Committee initiated the Roundtable Discussion Groups as a regular feature of this and future conferences. The Discussions are designed to generate focused debate around key topic areas, led by academic, government and industry experts, and are structured to produce definitive papers for peer review and publication in EBI's first-quarter issue of each publication year, albeit this year the papers will be published over the first two issues of 2007. The three Roundtables of the 14th ICEBI posed questions revolving around the chosen topic areas of Mercury Bioindicators, Marine Ecosystem-level Indicators, and Regulatory and Policy Uses of Bioindicators, and moved from “what we know” to “where we need to go” and “what are the policy implications from our discussions and conclusions.” The following paper on coral reef indicators is the first product of this undertaking. The second Roundtable paper on Mercury Bioindicators, along with a summary of the third Roundtable on Regulatory and Policy Uses of Bioindicators, will occur in our next issue.

A roundtable workshop was held on 24–26 April 2006 at the 14th International Conference on Environmental Bioindicators (14th ICEBI) to discuss environmental bioindicators as they apply to the coral reefs. Participants discussed procedures and potential bioindicators currently being used to monitor these ecosystems, those showing promise for future use, and candidates for future research and development. Attendees represented research and educational institutions, environmental consulting firms, and US federal government regulatory agencies. Despite the fact that these three interest-groups have similar ultimate objectives of protecting coral reef ecosystems, they are engaged in different activities, using different jargon and techniques, and are pursuing different proximal objectives. Their different perspectives presented challenges for information transfer among the groups.

Coral reef scientists, both descriptive and experimental, are attempting to explain the underlying processes controlling reef health, and assign functional relationships within that system, making it possible to predict effects of natural or anthropogenic perturbations. Individuals involved in monitoring are attempting to document components of the ecosystem and their characters that might indicate the state of reef health through time, generally at the macro-scale. Such monitoring generally utilizes at least some of the basic ecological, geological, chemical, or physical relationships defined by the first group. The third group – the environmental regulators and resource managers – is attempting to set limits for defining methods that will defensively document transgressions by parties causing damage to the environment. They also provide guidance for remediation. Management objectives almost universally require “reference points” or “bands” or standards against which alleged violations can be compared and which can be confidently and demonstrably traced to some anthropogenic source, within the guidelines of the law.

One of the problems recognized in the workshop was that differences in their respective objectives created communication and information gaps. Each group is encouraged to become conversant with the terminology and objectives of the other groups to provide a legal framework to effect environmental protection. Thus, for research and monitoring groups, reviewing the effectiveness of one bioindicator over another for predicting anthropogenic effects, although important, may be premature. Rather, it is more important to first understand the ultimate requirements of local, state, and federal governments, understand the staff and funding limitations of the resource management agencies, and become conversant with resource management terminology and needs. Then specific and relevant information can be channeled to the responsible regulatory bodies that will assist in achieving the common ultimate goal of environmental protection of coral reefs. A clear conclusion from this workshop is that a bioindicator review process must “start with the end in mind.”

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Environmental Bioindicators, v. 2, issue 1, p. 35-46