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Health and Environmental Effects Research

AED and GED Help Host Coral Reef Biological Integrity Workshop

EPA’s Office of Research and Development (NHEERL Atlantic Ecology Division [AED] and Gulf Ecology Division [GED]) and Office of Water recently hosted a workshop on coral reef biological integrity at the Caribbean Coral Reef Institute in La Parguera, Puerto Rico. The August 21-22, 2012, workshop brought together scientists with expertise in coral reef taxonomic groups (e.g., stony corals, fishes, sponges, gorgonians, algae, seagrasses, macroinvertebrates), community structure, organism condition, ecosystem function, and ecosystem connectivity. Those experts evaluated photos and videos for 12 stations collected during EPA coral reef surveys from Puerto Rico coral reefs exhibiting a wide range of conditions. The scientists individually rated each station as to observed condition (good, fair, or poor) and documented their rationale for the assignment. The group discussed the reef attributes that characterize biological integrity (or the natural condition) for Puerto Rico’s coral reefs. These attributes will be further developed to characterize the baseline condition, an important concept for achieving Clean Water Act goals.

The long-term purpose for this effort is to derive scientifically defensible thresholds for different levels of coral reef condition with a well-defined narrative for each level. Managers will be able to use the narratives to determine which level most appropriately describes the current condition of their coral reefs and which level is the desired condition. From this, they can set easily communicated, quantitative goals for achieving those conditions. The conceptual model will serve as an interpretative framework to explicitly link science and monitoring information to management and decisionmaking. By providing the explicit characterization of how attributes of the biological system change as human disturbance increases, decisionmakers will better understand the consequences of alternative decision scenarios in the watershed and coastal zone.

This is the first in a series of facilitated workshops and webinars with this group of coral reef experts. A workshop report is being prepared and will be published as an EPA report.

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