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Assessing the Condition of Georgia Estuaries: Using the National Coastal Assessment as a Primer to Estuarine Monitoring

Dominic Guadagnoli

Water Quality and Habitat Programs, Coastal Resources Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Brunswick, Georgia

The National Coastal Assessment is one of several estuarine monitoring programs implemented by the Coastal Resources Division (CRD) in the past decade. Traditionally, estuarine assessments in Georgia have been based on trend monitoring designs. This approach has been used effectively to monitor and evaluate changes in population dynamics of many commercial and recreational finfish and invertebrate species of interest. Trend surveys have also been used to examine other more recent coastal issues of concern such as harmful algal bloom (HAB) monitoring and marsh dieback. Methods and sampling protocols have been standardized over time, thus insuring high levels of confidence in statistical analysis of temporal variation.

Unfortunately many CRD trend surveys suffer from poor spatial coverage due to fiscal and logistical constraints that limit sampling within large and complex estuarine areas. In addition, due to limited resources, many of the core indicators relating to estuarine habitat assessment in a stressor-response relationship have rarely been tested along the coast. The National Coastal Assessment Program (NCA) has given Georgia an excellent opportunity to determine if the set of integrated metrics used to assess coastal habitat in other areas of the United States are applicable to estuaries of the central South Atlantic Bight. As future estuarine monitoring programs such as the NCA program evolve, the challenges will be centered on developing surveys that provide both sufficient temporal and spatial coverage using metrics that are responsive and representative of estuarine and coastal systems in Georgia.

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