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Executive Summary From the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts of the United States come increasingly frequent reports of closed bathing beaches, restricted shell- fish beds, garbage washing up on shorelines, contaminated waters and sediments, oil spills, declining marine environmental quality, and ailing fisheries. The coastal ocean contains extraordinarily productive natural ecosystems, and all its physical, chemical, and biological processes are not well understood. In addition, the anthropogenic and natural causes of change in this environment are complex and varied, and they occur over different space and time scales. Protection and restoration of the marine environment have been the subject of intense activity over the past three decades by public officials, scientists, and citizens. Numerous statutes and regulations were adopted by federal and state governments. Billions of dollars were spent on corrective measures, and more than $133 million is spent annually to monitor the condition of the marine environment by federal, state, and local agencies; public utilities; and private corporations. Marine environmental monitoring has been successfully employed to protect public health through systematic measurement of microbial in- dicators of fecal pathogens in swimming and shellfish-growing areas, to validate water qualifier models, and to assess the effectiveness of pollution abatement. But despite these considerable efforts and expenditures, most environmental monitoring programs fail to provide the information needed to understand the condition of the marine environment or to assess the effects of human activity on it. Further, environmental managers are often 1
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2 MANAGING TROUBLE ED WATE:RS unable to assure the public that proposed protective or corrective strategies are likelier to be successful The difficulty of obtaining useful information from monitoring programs can be attributed to several factors. First, too often monitoring programs are poorly designed and the technology ~nap- propriately applied. Second, information is rarely presented in a form that is useful in developing broad public policy or evaluating specific control strategies. (On the other hand, a number of estuarine programs directed at selected water quality problems have led to specific control strategies for waste treatment facilities.) A third factor is the very real limits on scientific knowledge and predictive capabilities. This report examines these issues in detail It proposes specific design criteria and makes recommendations about the dissemination of monitoring information. It also proposes a coherent system of regional monitoring upon which control strategies can be based and their effectiveness measured. This report was prepared by the Committee on a Systems Assessment of Manne Environmental Monitonog of the National Research Council. Manne environmental monitoring Is defined as a continuing program of modeling, measurement, analysis, and synthesis that predicts and quantifies environmental conditions or contaminants and incorporates that informa- tion efiec~vely into decision making in environmental management. The committee developed a conceptual model for the design and im- plementadon of monitoring programs and the role of monitoring in marine emaronmental management. It then convened three panels of experts to conduct case studies on monitoring of the Chesapeake Bay, monitoring of the Southern California Bitt, and the disposal of particulate west" ~ the oceans. These reports provided the major base of technical infor- mation on the national experience in marine environmental monitoring. The committee evaluated the major policy and technical limitations of and opportunities for manne environmental monitoring based on the panel re- ports, other examples, relevant literature on monitoring strategies, and the collective experience of the members. The report conveys advice on what can be expected from marine environmental monitoring, how monitoring programs should be designed, and how they can supply information that would be more useful in decision making. The results of marine environmental monitoring are important to a wide range of interests beachgoers and fishermen, dischargers, engineers, government environmental managers, politicians, scientists, and private citizens. Monitoring information meets many needs: · Monitoring provides the information needed tO evaluate pollution abatement actions. · Monitonug information can provide an early warning system, al- lowing for lower cost solutions to environmental problems.
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EXECUTIVE SUMMERY 3 · Monitoring contributes to knowledge of marine ecosystems and how they are affected by human activity. Such knowledge allows for the establishment of priorities for environmental protection and for the assessment of status and trends. · Monitoring information helps answer such questions as "Is it safe to swim or eat fish and shellfish?". · Monitoring information is essential to the construction, adjustment, and verification of quantitative predictive models, which are an important basis for evaluating, developing, and selecting environmental management strategies. · Monitoring information provides environmental managers the sci- entific rationale for setting environmental quality standards. · Monitoring determines compliance with conditions set forth in discharge permits. Monitoring would become even more useful under a comprehensive national program for documenting environmental status and trends in coastal waters and estuaries. A national program would best combine intensive regional observations and cause-effects studies with a sparser national network of observations. The latter would cover areas not included in intensive regional programs to facilitate regional comparisons and to detect broader-scale trends. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Status and Mends Program and the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Estuary Program and proposed Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program should cooperate to develop an ef- fective national program. Reallocation of compliance monitoring resources could in some cases contribute to the recommended regional monitoring efforts. Although legislative mandates for this nationalfregional program may already exist, the administration and Congress should review existing pro- grams and coordinating arrangements and implement those administrative improvements or new legislative direction necessary to support the national system of long-term regional monitoring. Congress should exercise strong oversight of these efforts. Monitoring programs also need to be better designed and monitoring methods more appropriately applied if they are to meet the expectations of all those who call for them, design them, implement them, and use or rely on the information that they can produce. Monitoring is generally not well coupled with research programs designed to improve the appropriateness of routine measurements and allow interpretation of the implications of monitoring results. Most marine environmental monitoring programs are technically sound; it is the overall design and institutional context that limits
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4 MANAGING TROUB~FD WATERS the usefulness of the information that results. Sound program design and implementation depend on the following factors: · The goals and objectives of the monitoring program need to be clearly articulated in terms that pose questions that are meaningful to the public and that provide the basis for scientific investigation. Not only must data be gathered, but attention must also be paid to their management, synthesis, interpretation, and analysis. peer review. Procedures for quality assurance are needed, including scientific · Because a well-designed monitoring program results in unanswered questions about environmental processes or human impacts, supportive research should be prodded. · Adequate resources are needed not only for data collection but also for detailed analysis and evaluation over the long term. · Programs should be sufficiently flexible to allow for their modifica- tion where changes in conditions or new information suggests the need. · Provision should be made to ensure that monitoring information is made available to all interested parties in a form that is useful to them. In sum, the committee calls for: . agement, strengthening the role of monitoring in marine environmental man conducting comprehensive monitoring of regional and national sta- tus and trends, and improving monitoring program design and making information products more useful The comm ittee believes that implementation of its recommendations is vital to better protection, restoration, and understanding of the marine environment. Yet it does not wish to overstate the usefulness of moni- tonug programs. The marine environment is complex and variable, and it is often difficult to detect, identify, and measure anthropogenic impacts clearly. These factors, coupled with limitations to scientific knowledge, em- phasize the need for realistic expectations. Environmental managers need to consider the risks and uncertainties inherent in most actions. Risk-free decision making is not possible. When well developed, applied, and used, environmental monitoring can help quantify the magnitude of uncertainty, thereby reducing but not eliminating uncertainly in decision making.
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