Rapid prioritization of marine ecosystem services and ecosystem indicators
An ecosystem services (ES) approach to managing marine and coastal resources has increasingly emerged as a core requirement of ecosystem-based management (EBM). However, little practical guidance exists to help structure and implement such an approach. This paper outlines the linkages between ecosystems, ES and EBM in a practical framework that could be applied to marine environmental management. Using the northwestern, deepwater Gulf of Mexico as a case study, a three-stage approach was devised: (1) prioritizing relevant ES according to perceived financial and societal value and level of stress, (2) assessing the effectiveness of a wide range of indicators of ES health, and (3) ranking indicators to identify those whose monitoring would be most effective in tracking ES health. The first stage of this approach identified food provision, recreational fishing, and the non-use ethical value derived from the presence of iconic species as the highest-priority ES in the case study region. The second and third stages suggested four indicators as having the highest priority for supporting key ES: (1) levels of selected chemical compounds in key species of fish, (2) marine sound, (3) concentration of chlorophyll-a as a proxy for phytoplankton, and (4) economic and ecological values added by artificial structures. Results of this study will be helpful in prioritizing the allocation of resources for marine environmental monitoring. The approach described here will also be applicable, with appropriate adaptations, to ES analysis in other environmental settings.