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Workshop on Biological Integrity of Coral Reefs August 21-22, 2012, Caribbean Coral Reef Institute, Isla Magueyes, La Parguera, Puerto Rico.
Bradley, P., Debbie Santavy, AND J. Gerritsen. Workshop on Biological Integrity of Coral Reefs August 21-22, 2012, Caribbean Coral Reef Institute, Isla Magueyes, La Parguera, Puerto Rico. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-13/350, 2014.
Coral reefs worldwide are declining at an alarming rate and are under continuous threat from both natural and anthropogenic environmental stressors. The President’s Ocean Action Plan directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop biological assessment methods and biological criteria for evaluating and maintaining the health of coral reef ecosystems. Coastal resource managers and coral reef scientists routinely conduct biological assessments to evaluate the condition of a water body. However, they lack a scientifically derived process for identifying thresholds that can be coupled with management objectives and used to evaluate alternative decision options. This report documents the process for developing the Biological Condition Gradient (BCG), a conceptual model that describes how biological attributes of coral reef ecosystems (i.e., biological condition) might change along a gradient of increasing anthropogenic stress (e.g., physical, chemical and biological impacts. The BCG model provides a framework to help water quality managers set goals, interpret existing environmental conditions, evaluate the effects of stressors on a waterbody, and develop biological water quality criteria.
This report summarizes an EPA-sponsored workshop on coral reef biological integrity held at the Caribbean Coral Reef Institute in La Parguera, Puerto Rico on August 21-22, 2012. The goals of this workshop were to:• Identify key qualitative and quantitative ecological characteristics (reef attributes) that determine the condition of linear coral reefs inhabiting shallow waters (<12 m) in southwestern Puerto Rico.• Use those reef attributes to recommend categorical condition rankings for establishing a biological condition gradient.• Ascertain through expert consensus those reef attributes that characterize biological integrity (a natural, fully-functioning system of organisms and communities) for coral reefs. • Develop a conceptual, narrative model that describes how biological attributes of coral reefs change along a gradient of increasing anthropogenic stress.The workshop brought together scientists with expertise in coral reef taxonomic groups (e.g., stony corals, fishes, sponges, gorgonians, algae, seagrasses and macroinvertebrates), as well as community structure, organism condition, ecosystem function and ecosystem connectivity. The experts evaluated photos and videos from 12 stations collected during EPA Coral Reef surveys (2010 & 2011) from Puerto Rico on coral reefs exhibiting a wide range of conditions. The experts individually rated each station as to observed condition (“good”, “fair” or “poor”) and documented their rationale for the assignment. The group discussed the reef attributes that characterize biological integrity (or the natural condition) for Puerto Rico’s coral reefs. These attributes will be further developed to characterize the baseline condition, an important concept for achieving Clean Water Act goals. A preliminary BCG based on stony corals, fishes, gorgonians, sponges, vertebrates and other invertebrates has been assembled for shallow-water linear reefs of Southwestern Puerto Rico. The experts were able to identify four distinct levels of condition: very good excellent; good; fair; and poor. Additional discussion is needed to develop reference condition for biological integrity (e.g., natural level). The long-term goal is to derive scientifically defensible thresholds for different levels of coral reef condition with a well-defined narrative for each level. The attributes and thresholds will be organized into a conceptual model that describes how biological attributes of coral reefs change along a gradient of increasing anthropogenic stress. By providing the explicit characterization of how coral reef attributes change as human disturbance increases, decision-makers will be able to use the narratives to determine which level most appropriately describes the current condition of their coral reefs, what conditions are desired and can set easily communicated, quantitative goals for achieving those conditions.