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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. Ecosystem components interact through dynamic chemical, physical, and biological processes that influence organism populations and 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 manage our diverse marine resources more comprehensively with regional fishery management councils and other partners. This enables us to better recognize and address changing conditions and facilitate tradeoff decisions.

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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 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 ecosystem 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. 

Learn more about integrated ecosystem assessments

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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