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Ecosystems

Ecosystems

Part of our mission is to steward healthy and resilient coastal and marine ecosystems that provide valued resources to our nation.

Coastal and marine ecosystems involve complex interactions between organisms, their environment, and human activities. Components of ecosystems interact through dynamic chemical, physical, and biological processes that influence ecosystem sustainability.

These systems are ever changing and can be vulnerable to natural and human-induced stressors such as extreme weather, fishing pressure, pollution, and habitat loss. We study the entire ecosystem to help us take a more comprehensive approach to managing our diverse marine resources for their benefit and ours.

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FACT

7 football fields per hour

Human activities, such as development, are a primary cause for coastal wetland loss. Studies have found that this loss is substantial—about seven football fields per hour! Wetlands filter waters that drain into the ocean, reduce the damaging effects of hurricanes and storms on our coastal communities, help our shorelines adapt to climate change, and play an important role in the productivity of commercial and recreational fisheries.

3 levels of ecosystem management

We work to maintain ecosystems in a healthy, productive, and resilient condition so they can provide the services humans want and need. Fishery managers and scientists frequently reference three levels of ecosystem management in relation to marine fisheries: ecosystem based management, ecosystem based fisheries management, and ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

5,000 known species of phytoplankton

Phytoplankton are the foundation of the marine food web. They feed lots of other marine life, from microscopic organisms to huge whales. By studying the more than 5,000 species of phytoplankton, we are able to evaluate ecosystem health and learn about any changes in these ecosystems.

8 distinct regional ecosystems

The physical boundaries of regional ecosystems are based on four ecological criteria: bathymetry, hydrography, productivity, and trophic relationships. Based on these criteria, there are eight distinct regional ecosystems around the coastal margins of United States.

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Ecosystem-Based Management

We strongly support using ecosystem-based fisheries management to inform and enable better decisions about trade-offs between fisheries (commercial, recreational, and subsistence), aquaculture, protected species, biodiversity, and habitats. Recognizing the interconnectedness of these ecosystem components will help maintain resilient and productive ecosystems including human communities amidst climate, habitat, ecological, and other environmental changes.

Learn more about ecosystem-based management

Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management

We are working to adopt an ecosystem-based approach for managing sustainable fisheries. Fishing is only one variable that affects a species' population. Interactions with other species, environmental changes, pollution, and other stresses on habitat and water quality can affect fish populations. To more effectively assess the health of any given fishery and to determine the best way to maintain it, fishery managers should take ecosystem considerations into account.

Learn more about ecosystem-based fisheries management

Integrated Ecosystem Assessments

We use integrated ecosystems assessments as a science-based decision-support process that provides the analytical framework to implement ecosystem-based approaches to manage our marine resources, including fisheries and protected resources. Integrated ecosystem assessments synthesize data on physical, chemical, ecological, and human processes within ecosystems to provide the sound interdisciplinary ecosystem-based science, trade-off evaluation, and management advice required to ensure our nation’s marine resources are sustainable and deliver a broad spectrum of benefits and services, which in turn, enhances the well-being of current and future generations.

Learn more about integrated ecosystem assessments

Fisheries and the Environment

This research program advances the understanding of environmental impacts on marine life. It focuses on fisheries oceanography research that provides scientific advice for keeping U.S. fisheries sustainable, and uses information scientists gather to improve stock assessments, ecosystem assessments, and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. Included projects analyze the response of marine life to environmental changes, leading to development of ecological and oceanographic indicators and forecasting models to incorporate into stock or ecosystem assessments.

Learn more about our research on fisheries and the environment

Global Plankton Database

Oceanic plankton constitute the largest reservoir of biomass in the world's oceans and play a significant role in the transfer of energy and materials within the oceanic ecosystems. Gaining access and insight into the world's collection of historical and ongoing plankton monitoring data is essential for evaluating ecosystem health and for detecting changes in these ecosystems.

Learn more about the Global Plankton Database

Large Marine Ecosystems

NOAA is part of a global partnership implementing ecosystem-based approaches to assess, manage, recover, and sustain marine resources within large marine ecosystems. NOAA developed the Large Marine Ecosystem Approach and the ecological criteria used to delineate the 66 large marine ecosystems worldwide more than 30 years ago. Today, NOAA works with the Global Environment Facility, United Nations Agencies, non-governmental organizations, and country ministries using the approach to develop and execute regional projects within large marine ecosystems to promote ecosystem-based management across national boundaries.

Learn more about large marine ecosystems

Insight

Ecosystem-based fisheries management is a holistic approach that recognizes all the interactions within an ecosystem rather than considering a single species or issue in isolation. 

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