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MAIA Estuaries

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Background

The Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment (MAIA) began as a partnership between EPA's Region 3 and the Office of Research and Development (ORD) Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) to develop and respond to the best available information on the condition of various ecological resources and to adapt environmental management over time, based on careful monitoring of environmental indicators and related new information. Additional partnerships have been developed with other federal and state environmental organizations. MAIA has implemented an Assessment Framework which begins by defining realistic environmental goals and related environmental assessment questions. MAIA then strives to answer the assessment questions and to characterize ecological resource condition based upon exposure and effect information.

MAIA is producing assessments at four levels of integration:

  1. single resource assessments which determine the status and trends in the condition of individual ecological resources (e.g., estuaries);
  2. within-resource associations for a single resource group;
  3. determining landscape condition and the associations between resource condition and landscapes; and
  4. determining relationships among multiple resources at various spatial scales.

Initial efforts are on-going for individual resources (e.g., estuaries, surface waters, forests, and agriculture) between the Region, EMAP, other federal agencies, and states. The "Condition of the Mid-Atlantic Estuaries Report," written by ORD/Atlantic Ecology Division has been reviewed and is in final production. This report responded to specific assessment questions developed by the MAIA Estuaries Team, which fall into the following broad areas:

  1. Is there a problem?
  2. Where is the problem located? What is the magnitude, extent, and distribution?
  3. What is the cause of the problem?
  4. Are things changing?
  5. What does it mean to the community ?
  6. What can we do about it?

The data sources underlying this report were the ORD's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) and related monitoring efforts (e.g., Regional-EMAP (REMAP) and other special ORD monitoring efforts in the Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment (MAIA) geographic area), State programs on the coastal and estuarine resource area, the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) and National Estuary Program (NEP) efforts.

While the report answers many of the assessment questions, there remained data gaps. These may be because there has not been adequate monitoring in some geographic areas (i.e., additional monitoring is required), or because there are no environmental indicators available to adequately answer the question (i.e., additional research is required).

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Development of an Integrated Monitoring Program

In 1997 MAIA began a coordinated monitoring effort of the mid-Atlantic estuaries to respond to the data gaps identified during the development of the "Condition of the Mid-Atlantic Estuaries Report".

The integrated monitoring program built upon existing monitoring activities conducted by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP), the National Park Service (NPS), the Delaware Estuary Program, and the states, using a suite of common core indicators or measurements. Monitoring will be conducted in large estuarine systems, large tidal rivers, and small estuarine systems.

The goal of the integrated estuarine monitoring in MAIA is to assess the environmental condition of large estuarine systems in the Mid-Atlantic such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay including specific attention to their large rivers components such as Susquehanna, Potomac, James and Delaware. The monitoring will assess the condition of smaller estuarine systems as a whole with specific attention to ten small systems such as Virginia Coastal Bays, Pocomoke River, and Salem River. To reach this goal we will guide, integrate, and leverage existing monitoring programs to improve spatial coverage and strengthen their capabilities to assess environmental condition through use of a core list of indicators. We will conduct field validation of new indicators and assess the feasibility of merging alternative monitoring designs such as probabilistic (EMAP) and targeted (Chesapeake Bay Program) monitoring programs.

MAIA partners participated fully in the planning and execution of the Integrated Estuarine Monitoring. The partners are:

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Process

The concept of using Integrated Estuarine Monitoring was developed by the joint EPA Region 3/ORD, EMAP Team. Representatives of the various federal and state monitoring programs participated in a series of workshops in Annapolis, MD to discuss how to integrate estuarine monitoring efforts. The purpose of integrating monitoring efforts was to produce a better characterization of estuaries across the Region and to design a monitoring program which also responded to the information needs at all scales from regional to smaller, local scales. Other issues which were addressed include how the EMAP design could be linked to regional and intensive sites and whether a core set of indicators can be identified that all groups could agree on.

The programs agreed to work together and to approach integration through the assessment process, not by comparing monitoring designs. Using the draft "Condition of the Mid-Atlantic Estuaries Report" as a starting point, they were able to identify assessment questions which would help to characterize the condition of the estuaries. In addition, they identified questions which could not be answered because indicators had not yet been developed or field verified.

The group agreed to develop a set of core existing indicators which would be monitored by all parties. They determined the ideal set of indicators would cover the food chain, water quality, habitat quality, eutrophication, and chemical contamination.

The ORD Gulf Ecology Division (GED) took input from the partners and developed a comprehensive integrated monitoring design which met the various goals identified. The final design consists of more than 700 stations throughout the mid-Atlantic estuaries (see Figures 1, 2, and 3). The partners agreed to provide summary tables of water quality and sediment monitoring, including methods, maps, outlines, measurements, and schedules and to provide recent summary reports of their own monitoring activities. This information will be compiled by ORD/Atlantic Ecology Division (AED) into a summary overview of the MAIA integrated estuaries monitoring program which will be put on the EMAP homepage.

ORD/AED also provided a central Information Management clearinghouse, which includes a directory, catalog and summary data sets. Formats and file specifications that summary data are to be transmitted in, including metadata requirements, were provided to the collaborators in the "MAIA-Estuaries 1997 Data Transfer and Formal Manual."

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Using a core list of indicators

Selected parameters which have been shown to be key indicators of overall environmental quality are measured by the various monitoring programs. These indicators are quantifiable and clearly related to ecological condition.

The partners developed a list of core indicators. Each partner initially presented the suite of indicators being used in their monitoring program. Detailed discussions about the choice of indicators and the protocols for collection followed. The result of these discussions was ultimately a detailed list of core indicators for which all partners would monitor. It was agreed that all partners would monitor these core indicators, but could monitor additional indicators as required by their individual program. It was also agreed that when monitoring for these core indicators, all partners would use the same protocols.

The partners will be collecting the field data at over 700 sites during months of July, August, and September of 1997. Data and assessment reports are scheduled to be available in 1998.

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Sampling Station Information

For more information contact Pat Gant (410-573-2744), Kevin Summers (904-934-9244), or Brian Melzian (401-782-3188).

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