Ecological Indicators for Gulf of Mexico Estuaries ECOLOGICAL INDICATORS FOR GULF OF MEXICO ESTUARIES
2001 Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Opening Date:  October 30, 2000
Closing Date:  March 8, 2001

Scope of Research
Guidelines for Estuarine Indicator Research Programs
Funds Available
Sorting Code
Instructions for the Application
How to Apply
Application Review
Selection Criteria
Proprietary Information
Funding Mechanism


In this announcement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Research and Development (ORD), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Earth Science, solicit grant applications to establish an Integrated Estuarine Research Program for the Gulf of Mexico region.

The objective of this Program is to identify, develop, evaluate, and recommend a suite of indicators of ecological condition, including function, integrity, and/or sustainability that can be incorporated into long-term monitoring programs and which will complement ORD's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP).

The proposed research should be applicable to an extensive coastal area of the Gulf of Mexico, preferably from Texas to Florida. "Estuarine" should be broadly interpreted to include near-coastal waters (0-3 miles offshore), bays, estuaries, coastal wetlands, land margins, and upstream coastal watersheds.  Indicators for near-coastal waters, submerged aquatic vegetation, and coral reefs, and indicators of function for estuaries and coastal watersheds, are of particular interest in the development of a program for monitoring the health of Gulf of Mexico ecosystems.


This solicitation complements research funded in Fiscal Year 2000 for four EaGLe (Estuarine and Great Lakes) Programs covering the Atlantic, Pacific and the Great Lakes coastal regions. EPA and NASA now solicit applications that will present coordinated Programs for the Gulf of Mexico geographic area; each application should include a number of individual, but integrated project proposals with a focus centered on the Gulf of Mexico coastal ecosystems, preferably from multiple institutions.  The five EaGLe programs will help in painting a national picture of the status and trends of estuarine ecological health.

The Agencies are particularly interested in developing new widely applicable indicators of condition, including function, integrity, and sustainability, for specific ecological entities and then testing their applicability across regions.

  • Function refers to the ability of the system to provide important ecological processes.

  • Integrity refers to the degree to which an ecosystem demonstrates a balanced, resilient community of organisms with biological diversity, species composition, structural redundancy, and functional processes comparable to that of natural habitats in the same region.

  • Sustainability refers to the ability of an ecosystem to maintain a defined/desired state of ecological integrity over time.
It is intended that the research of all of the EaGLe Programs be representative of (a) various levels and kinds of human impacts on coastal environments; (b) the major biogeographical provinces associated with the coasts of the United States; and (c) important habitats occurring in and along the coasts of the United States (e.g., coral reefs, sea grass beds,).  Cost and efficiency of data collection must be considered with the knowledge that successful indicators will be incorporated into existing monitoring and assessment programs.  Grantees are encouraged to utilize existing data bases as much as possible.

This announcement provides relevant background information, summarizes EPA's and NASA's interest in establishing this Program and describes the application and review process. It is expected that with a four year project plan and substantial budget, this Program will comprise interdisciplinary teams of researchers, preferably from several institutions throughout the region to tackle more ambitious projects than could individual investigators.

These EaGLe Programs will complement ORD's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program, EMAP by helping to create an integrated comprehensive coastal monitoring program across the nation's coastlines to assess the condition of estuarine and coastal waters.  This solicitation also complements ecological research programs in EPA Laboratories and NASA field centers and is consistent with their goals and objectives.

Applications are encouraged that present plans for the establishment of Programs which will test the capability and utility of ecological indicators within and across eco-regions over the four year period of the cooperative agreement.  This solicitation encourages a diversity of research approaches and collaborations among federal, state, and academic scientists and resource managers.

All applications should include a description of relevant on-going or planned monitoring and assessment activities within the Gulf of Mexico and discuss how the proposed indicators will benefit these and future monitoring efforts.


The application is to address one or more of the following objectives, and should quantify the variability, sensitivity, and uncertainties associated with the indicators and/or procedures selected for each chosen objective.  To the extent possible, indicators should be correlated with associated stressors, including land use change where impairment is indicated.  As mentioned before, this RFA is directed toward indicators of biological condition, including function, structure, and integrity.  Condition indicators may suggest the presence of a causal agent (e.g., contaminants in sediment), but a measurement of contaminants in sediment would be an exposure indicator and would not be responsive to this RFA.

(1) Develop indicators and/or procedures useful for evaluating the ?health' or condition of important coastal natural resources (e.g., submerged aquatic vegetation, near-shore waters, coral reefs, coastal wetlands, rivers, estuaries) at multiple scales, ranging from individual communities to coastal drainage areas to entire biogeographical regions.   The objective is to identify indicators/indices that inform environmental managers of current condition and subsequent changes, over time, in the health or condition of the natural resource of interest.

(2) Develop indicators, indices, and/or procedures useful for evaluating the integrated condition of multiple resource/ecosystem types within a defined watershed, drainage basin, or larger biogeographical region of the U.S.  For example, a team might create a bird community index that reflects the combined condition of aquatic and terrestrial communities in the watershed on which the birds depend.  Such an index could serve as a useful measure of overall watershed condition because it combines multiple resource types.  The objective is to identify indicators/indices that inform environmental managers of current condition and changes over time, in the health or condition of the system/region of interest.

(3) Develop landscape measures that characterize landscape attributes and that concomitantly serve as quantitative indicators of a range of environmental endpoints, including water quality, watershed quality, freshwater/estuarine/marine biological condition, and habitat suitability.  These measures could be linked with hydrological, ecological process, socio-economic, and other models to improve their quantitative and predictive capabilities relative to the chosen environmental endpoints.  The key objective is to develop biological indicators to assess the degradation or improvement in resource types, systems or larger biogeographical regions that enable environmental managers to understand the probable consequences of changes in measurable landscape attributes.

(4) Develop nested suites of indicators that can both quantify the health or condition of a resource or system and identify its primary stressors at local to regional scales.  The objective is to provide suites of diagnostic indicators that will not only provide environmental managers with a measure of the condition of a resource at multiple scales, but also provide the likely cause of any poor conditions that might be observed.

We encourage strong interaction among multidisciplinary teams that will result in interdisciplinary research approaches.


1. In conducting their research the individual project leaders forming the Program must demonstrate a knowledge of and a willingness to take advantage of existing and/or future monitoring data bases and programs, as they become available.  All applications should include a description of ongoing monitoring at the proposed sites and discuss the importance and relationship of any proposed additional monitoring activity to the development of the proposed indicators.

2. Each Program must be led by an overall Director, who will provide oversight, coordination, and integration of the Program's activities.

3. Each Program will consist of a project supporting the direction and administration of the Program plus individual research projects that are integrated into the overall goals of the Program (i.e., these cannot be independent, stand-alone projects, but must relate to each other substantively and clearly be directed toward development of a suite of indicators for assessing the condition of coastal ecosystems).

4. Active collaboration and participation between the members of the Program and  environmental management agencies  (e.g., a State Department of Natural Resources, a Water Management District Office) and the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program must be demonstrated.  The management agency should provide management questions to be addressed in the proposal and will be a key client for the indicators.

5. Each application must clearly describe the process for identifying, developing, evaluating, and assessing uncertainty and for establishing the linkage between the environmental value at risk, the assessment endpoint, and the proposed indicator.  An assessment endpoint is a valued attribute of an ecosystem about which one wishes to make a decision.  Refer to Guidelines for Ecological Risk Assessment for additional information on EPA's approach to ecological risk assessment and to the Guidelines for Ecological Indicators for information on the technical evaluation of ecological indicators.

6. The application must contain specific plans for making data and research results available.   The Program must follow the data policy of EMAP.  Research results must be published in the refereed literature.

7. The Program will be responsible for organizing an annual joint workshop/review with the other Programs to highlight research and discuss research issues as they arise.  This responsibility will be rotated annually between the Gulf of Mexico Program and the other EaGLe Programs.  Adequate travel funds should be budgeted for these reviews.  Each Program must also provide additional mechanisms for interaction and integration with the other Programs.  As the research matures the Program Directors should identify assessment endpoints that are common to all geographical areas, such as submerged aquatic vegetation and fish contamination.


Support for these grants is contingent upon the availability of funds for this purpose.  It is anticipated that a total of $1.5 million, including direct and indirect costs, will be available to fund the Program during the first year and comparable amounts for 3 additional years.  Additional funds may be available from NASA to support specific remote sensing capabilities.  An application with a remote sensing component may request up to $150,000 yearly in support of that project.  This would increase the maximum annual funding level.


Interested applicants must be eligible to receive Federal assistance under the acts giving Statutory authority for research funding by EPA or NASA.  Statutory authority for EPA funding of this research is found in Section 103 of the Clean Air Act and Section 104 of the Clean Water Act.  Not-for-profit scientific research and educational institutions located in the United States, and State or local governments are eligible to apply under this solicitation.  Profit-making firms are not eligible to submit applications to this program but may participate by sub-contracting from grantees.

Researchers in Federal agencies may not submit applications directly, but may participate as part of a research team working with an academic or state partner.  Federal employees may cooperate or collaborate with other eligible applicants within the limits imposed by applicable legislation and regulations.  Federal employees may not request salary reimbursement or funding for other than extramural uses.

EPA and NASA welcome applications on behalf of all qualified scientists, engineers, and other professionals, and strongly encourage women, minorities, and persons with disabilities to compete fully in this program.

In accordance with Federal statutes and regulations and EPA and NASA policies, no person on grounds of race, color, age, sex, national origin, or disability shall be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal assistance from EPA or NASA.


At various places within the application, applicants will be asked to identify this topic area by using the Sorting Code.  The Sorting Code for this solicitation is 2001-STAR-E1.

The Sorting Code must be placed at the top of the abstract (as shown in the abstract format), in Box 10 of Standard Form 424 (as described in the section on SF424), and  be included in the address on the package that is sent to EPA (see the section on how to apply).


The initial application is made through the submission of the materials described below.  It is essential that the application contain all the information requested and be submitted in the formats described.  If an application is considered for award, (i.e., after external peer review and internal review) additional forms and other information will be requested by the Project Officer.  The original signed copy of the application should not be bound or stapled in any way.  Other copies should be stapled or bound with clips.

The Application will include both the overall Program plan and the individual research project and remote sensing project descriptions.  The overall application contains the following:

A. Standard Form 424: The applicant must complete Standard Form 424.  This form will act as a cover sheet for the application and must be its first page.  Instructions for completion of the SF424 are included with the form.  The form must contain the original signature of an authorized representative of the applying  institution.  Please note that both the Principal Investigator (Director) and an administrative contact are to be identified in Section 5 of the SF424.

B. Key Contacts:  The applicant must complete the Key Contacts Form as the second page of the submitted application.

C. Table of Contents:  Provide a list of the major subdivisions of the application which indicates the page number on which each section begins.

D.  Abstract:  The abstract is a very important document.  Prior to attending the peer review panel meetings, some of the panelists may read only the abstract.  Therefore, it is critical that the abstract accurately describe the research being proposed and convey all the essential elements of the research.  Also, the abstracts of funded applications will form the basis for an Annual Report of awards made under this program and will be posted on the NCER web site.  The abstract, limited to two pages, should include the following information, as indicated in the example format.  Examples of abstracts for current grants may be found on the NCER web site.

 1. Sorting Code: 2001-STAR-E1.

 2. Title: Use the exact title as it appears in the rest of the application.  Indicate the region represented by the Program in the title.

 3. Investigators: Start with the Principal Investigator (Director).  Also list the names and affiliations of each major co-investigator who will significantly contribute to the project.

 4. Institution: List the name and city/state of each participating university or other applicant institution, in the same order as the list of investigators.

 5. Project Period: Provide the proposed project beginning and ending dates.

 6. Project Cost: Provide the total request for federal funds for the entire project period.

 7. Overall Summary: This should summarize: (a) the objectives of the Program (including all hypotheses that will be tested), (b) the experimental approach to be used (which should give an accurate description of the Program?s objectives as described in the proposal), and (c) the expected results of the research and how it addresses the needs identified in the solicitation, including the estimated improvement in risk assessment or risk management that will result from successful completion of the work proposed.

 8. Supplemental Keywords: A list of suggested keywords is provided for your use.  Do not duplicate terms already used in the text of the abstract.  Providing a complete set of keywords is very important.

E.  Overall Description:  This description must not exceed fifteen (15) consecutively numbered (center bottom), 8.5x11-inch pages of single-spaced standard 12-point type with 1-inch margins, inclusive of figures and other visual materials, but exclusive of references.  The description must provide the following information:
1. Objectives:  List the overall objectives of the research that will be conducted by the members of the Program and briefly state why the intended research is important.  This section should also include any background or introductory information that would help explain the overall Program objectives (one to two pages recommended).

2. Approach: Summarize the overall methods, approaches, and techniques that you intend to employ in meeting the objectives stated above (two to five pages recommended).

3. Expected Results or Benefits: Describe the results you expect to achieve, the benefits of success as they relate to the topic areas of this solicitation, and the potential recipients of these benefits.  This section should also discuss the utility of the research projects proposed for addressing the environmental problems described in the solicitation (one to two pages recommended).

4. Management Plan and Milestones: The administrative and management aspects of the Program is to be described.  This plan should describe how priorities are set, how projects will be monitored and how progress will be measured.  Outline the planned interactions with the environmental management agency.  The management plan should also state its data policy, present both the budget for administration of the overall Program and an overall summary budget, and contain a resume for the Director.  Project management should be clearly delineated, with the roles and responsibilities of each investigator described.  A year-by-year summary of proposed work must be included with intermediate outcomes and a time line of major tasks covering the duration of the proposed Program project (two to five pages recommended).

5. General Information: Discuss other information relevant to the potential success of the Program.  This should include facilities, interactions with other institutions, etc. (one to two pages recommended).

 6. Important Attachments: Appendices and/or other information may be included but must remain within the 15-page limit.  References cited are in addition to the 15 pages. Each of the individual research projects is allocated an additional 15 pages.

In addition to the overall program description of the Program, each individual research project and remote sensing research project must be described as follows:

F. Individual Research Project Descriptions:  Each of the specific individual research projects should be completely described according to the instructions in NCER?s Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application (click here).  In essence, each should be a complete application.  An additional fifteen pages is permitted for each of the individual project descriptions.  Each should include its own abstract, project budget, and resumes of participating researchers, all of which are in addition to the allowed 15 pages.  The Director of the Program may participate as the Principal Investigator on one or more of the individual projects. All individual project proposals should be collected and submitted as part of an integrated Program proposal.  No proposal independent of a proposed overall Program will be considered.

G. Project Description for Remote Sensing Component (optional);  If a remote sensing component is proposed, an additional project (up to 15 pages) must be included giving similar details for the remote sensing component as for the individual research projects.

The following sections are in addition to the 15-page Project Description for the overall Program plan and for each individual project.  These materials should be included for both the overall plan and the individual projects, as appropriate:

H. Resumes: The resumes of all principal investigators and important co-workers must be provided.  Resumes must not exceed two consecutively numbered (bottom center), 8.5x11-inch pages of single-spaced standard 12-point type with 1-inch margins for each individual.

I. Current and Pending Support: The applicant must identify any current and pending financial resources that are intended to support research related to that included in the proposal or which would consume the time of principal investigators.  This should be done by completing the appropriate form for each investigator and other senior personnel involved in the proposal.  Failure to provide this information may delay consideration of your proposal.

J. Budget:  The applicant must present a detailed, itemized budget for the entire Program.  This budget must be in the format provided in the example and not exceed two consecutively numbered (bottom center), 8.5x11-inch pages with 1-inch margins.  Please note that institutional cost-sharing is not required and, therefore, does not have to be included in the budget table.  However, if you intend to cost-share, a brief statement concerning cost sharing can be added to the budget justification, which should include the estimated dollar amounts associated with the appropriate categories in the budget table.  In addition, provide a separate budget for each individual research project in the same format.  Sum the costs in the master budget for all projects in the Program.

 If a remote sensing component is proposed, present a separate budget for the additional funding related to the remote sensing component.  Use the same format provided in the example.

K.  Budget Justification: This section should describe the basis for calculating the personnel, fringe benefits, travel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and other (including computer) costs identified in the itemized budget and explain the basis for their calculation (special attention should be given to explaining the travel, equipment, and other categories).  This should also include an explanation of how the indirect costs were calculated.  This justification should not exceed two consecutively numbered (bottom center), 8.5x11-inch pages of single-spaced standard 12-point type with 1-inch margins.

L. Quality Assurance Statement:  For any project involving data collection or processing, conducting surveys, environmental measurements, and/or modeling, or the development of environmental technology (whether hardware-based or via new techniques) for pollution control and waste treatment, provide a statement on quality processes that will be used to assure that results of the research satisfy the intended project objectives.  The statement must describe a quality system that complies with the requirements of ANSI/ASQC E4, "Specifications and Guidelines for Quality Systems for Environmental Data Collection and Environmental Technology Programs," and must not exceed two pages.  This Statement should, for each item listed below, present the required information, reference the relevant portion of the project description containing the information, or provide a justification as to why the item does not apply to the proposed research.

1. Discuss the activities to be performed or hypothesis to be tested and  criteria for determining acceptable data quality.  (Note: Such criteria may be expressed in terms of precision, accuracy, representativeness, completeness, and comparability or in terms of data quality objectives or acceptance criteria.  Furthermore, these criteria must also be applied to determine the acceptability of existing or secondary data to be used in the project.  In this context secondary data may be defined as data previously collected for other purposes or from other sources, including the literature, compilations from computerized data bases, or results from models of environmental processes and conditions.)

2. Describe the study design, including sample type and location requirements, any statistical analyses that were or will be used to estimate the types and numbers of physical samples required, or equivalent  information for studies using survey and interview techniques.

3. Describe the procedures for the handling and custody of samples, including sample collection, identification, preservation, transportation, and storage.

4. Describe the procedures that will be used in the calibration and performance evaluation of the sampling and analytical methods and equipment to be used during the project.

5. Discuss the procedures for data reduction and reporting, including a description of all statistical methods, with reference to any statistical software to be used, to make inferences and conclusions; discuss any computer models to be designed or utilized with associated verification and validation techniques.

6. Describe the quantitative and/or qualitative procedures that will be used to evaluate the success of the project, including any plans for peer or other reviews of the study design or analytical methods prior to data collection.

 After awards are made, more detailed quality assurance statements will be required.

 ANSI/ASQC E4, "Specifications and Guidelines for Quality Systems for Environmental Data Collection and Environmental Technology Programs," is available for purchase from the American Society for Quality, phone 1-800-248-1946, item T55.  Only in exceptional circumstances should it be necessary to consult this document. An EPA guidance document, Guidance on Satisfying EPA Quality System Requirements for STAR Grants (EPA  QA/G-1STAR) is available for potential applicants which addresses in detail how to comply with ANSI/ASQC E4 for STAR grants.  This may be found on the Internet

M. Postcard: The Applicant must include with the application a self-addressed, stamped 3x5-inch post card.  This will be used to acknowledge receipt of the application and to transmit other important information to the applicant.  If the applicant does not receive an acknowledgment within 60 days of the submission deadline, contact the person listed under ?Contacts.?


The original and ten (10) copies of the fully developed application (11 in all) and one (1) additional copy of the abstract (12 in all), must be received by NCER no later than 4:00 P.M. EST on the closing date, March 8, 2001.

The application and abstract must be prepared in accordance with these instructions.  Informal, incomplete, or unsigned proposals will not be considered.  The original, signature copy of the application should not be bound or stapled in any way.  The required number of copies of the application should be secured with paper or binder clips.

Completed applications should be sent via regular mail to:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Peer Review Division (8703R)
Sorting Code: 2001-STAR-E1
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC  20460

For express mail-delivered applications, the following address must be used:

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
Peer Review Division (8703R)
Sorting Code: 2001-STAR-E1
Room B-10105
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Phone: (202) 564-6939 (for express mail applications)

Courier- or personally-delivered applications must be brought to the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  The courier must come to the EPA Visitors Lobby (see map), tell the security guard that he/she has a delivery for the EPA mail room.  The courier will be required to sign a visitor?s log, and will be directed to the EPA mail room.  The mail room is open 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. weekdays, exclusive of Federal holidays.  If the applicant requires a receipt for the delivery, you will need to provide a form which the mail room personnel will sign.


Review of applications will be managed cooperatively by EPA and NASA.  All applications will be reviewed by an appropriate technical peer review group.  This review is designed to evaluate each proposal according to its scientific merit.  In general, each review group is composed of  scientists, engineers, social scientists, and/or economists who are experts in their respective disciplines and are proficient in the technical areas they are reviewing.

The application will be evaluated in the following areas: (1) the individual research projects and (2) the overall Program plan, including its administrative structure,  the management plan, and the overall plan for research integration among the individual projects.

The reviewers use the following criteria to help them in their reviews of the individual projects:

1. The originality and creativity of the proposed research, the appropriateness and adequacy of the methods proposed, and the appropriateness and adequacy of the Quality Assurance Statement.  Is the research approach practical and technically defensible, and can the project be performed within the proposed time period?  Will the proposed research contribute to the objectives of the program?  Is the application well-prepared with supportive information that is self-explanatory and understandable?

2. The qualifications of the principal investigator(s) and other key personnel, including research training, demonstrated knowledge of pertinent literature, experience, and publication records.  Will all key personnel contribute a significant time commitment to the project?

3. The availability and/or adequacy of the facilities and equipment proposed for the project.  Are there any deficiencies that may interfere with the successful completion of the research?

4. The responsiveness of the application to the research needs identified. Is the proposed effort integrated with current activities at the site?

5. Although budget information is not used by the reviewers as the basis for their evaluation of scientific merit, the reviewers are asked to provide their view on the appropriateness and/or adequacy of the proposed budget and its implications for the potential success of the proposed work.  Input on requested equipment is of particular interest.

Applying the above listed criteria, the peer review panel will also evaluate the overall Program application on the basis of the plan for integration of the research program, its scope and geographic coverage, degree of integration of the several research projects, and the capacity of the Program to achieve its overall objectives.


Applications that receive scores of excellent or very good from the peer reviewers are subjected to a programmatic review within EPA and NASA. The final selection of Programs will also be based on the following mandates:

(1) Each Program must take an interdisciplinary approach.

(2) There must be a high likelihood that the data and information obtained at each site can be used to improve the environmental decision-making process.

(3) Each application must clearly define the research questions that will be resolved during the life of the grant.  Stressors of concern, as well as appropriate evidence documenting the reality of the problem being investigated, must be included.

Upon conclusion of all reviews, meritorious projects may be recommended for funding by either EPA or NASA, at the agencies' option.  Subsequent grant administration procedures will be in accordance with the individual policies of the awarding agency.  A summary statement of the scientific review by the peer panel will be provided to each applicant.

The application selected for funding will require additional certifications, possibly a revised budget, and responses to any comments or suggestions offered by the peer reviewers.  The project officer will contact the applicant to obtain these materials.


By submitting an application in response to this solicitation, the applicant grants EPA and NASA permission to share the application with technical reviewers both within and outside the Agencies.  Applications containing proprietary or other types of confidential information will be returned to the applicant without review.


The funding mechanism for the award issued under this solicitation will consist of grants or cooperative agreements from EPA and/or NASA and depends on the availability of funds.  In accordance with Public Law 95-224, the primary purpose of a cooperative agreement is to accomplish a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by Federal statute rather than acquisition for the direct benefit of the government.


Additional general information on the grants program, forms used for applications, etc., may be obtained by exploring our Web page. EPA does not intend to make mass-mailings of this announcement.  Information not available on the Internet may be obtained by contacting:

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
 National Center for Environmental Research (8703R)
 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
 Washington, DC 20460

 Phone: 1-800-490-9194

In addition, contact persons listed below can respond to any technical questions related to your application.

 Ms. Barbara Levinson
 Phone: 202-564-6911

 Dr. Eric Lindstrom
 Phone: 202-358-4540

Last Updated: October 30, 2000