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Implementing Biocriteria: Coral Reef Protection Using the Clean Water Act
Fisher, W. Implementing Biocriteria: Coral Reef Protection Using the Clean Water Act. Coral Reef Task Force Climate Change Working Group, Web, Webinar, May 08, 2018.
For U.S. jurisdictions to implement biological criteria requires indicators that are sensitive to human stressors, a sampling protocol and survey design that is efficient and representative of a region, and reference conditions and target thresholds for management action. These requirements have been completed during the last decade for coral reefs in the Atlantic and Caribbean through a series of surveys to establish monitoring protocols for assessment of biological condition, and an expert panel to analyze field data to set biological condition thresholds. The latter was accomplished using a 'biological condition gradient', a framework that demonstrates how attributes of the biological system change with increasing levels of human disturbance. The biological condition levels generated by the expert panel can be used by jurisdictions to set management goals, including biological attainment goals under Section 101(a) of the Clean Water Act.
Biological assessments (surveying the presence, number, size and condition of fish, coral and other biota) provide important information about the health and integrity of coral reef ecosystems. Biological criteria are one means under the Clean Water Act (CWA) that managers can use to protect and restore coral reef ecosystems. Such protection will require that jurisdictions have available to them 1) biological assessment protocols using indicators sensitive to human disturbance, 2) established reference conditions and target thresholds as a basis for regulation, and 3) regional monitoring programs using probability-based survey designs. Each of the assessment requirements has been met through a series of coral reef surveys in Florida and the Caribbean. Reference conditions and target thresholds for management and regulation have been established through development of a Biological Condition Gradient (BCG), which provides explicit characterization of how attributes of the biological system change with increasing levels of human disturbance. The coral reef BCG, generated through expert panel deliberations using available field data, has created clear and scientifically defensible narratives for different levels of biological condition. A variety of management activities can be supported by comparing assessment data with the different levels of condition. Chief among these is maintaining “water quality that provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife, and recreation in and on the water” (CWA §101(a)(2)).