West Coast Governors' Alliance Integrated Ecosystem Assessment

The West Coast Governor's Alliance on Ocean Health, a regional collaboration to protect and manage U.S. West Coast ocean and coastal resources, was launched in September of 2006. This collaboration began an integrated ecosystem assessment (IEA) covering the entire coast, comprised of six regional IEAs (R-IEAs) in Washington, Oregon, and California. The R-IEAs evaluate a range of management objectives and establish “a harmonized set of standards and indicators for ocean health, including metrics for ecological integrity, ecosystem services, and socioeconomic conditions.” 

A bald eagle in Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
A bald eagle in Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

The Puget Sound Science Update is the first iteration of the Puget Sound R-IEA. The other IEAs will be conducted on the Washington outer coast, the Oregon coast, and Northern, Central, and Southern California. The final IEA workplan discusses the rationale for breaking the project into regional IEAs:

"Given the heterogeneous characteristics of the tri-state, land-margin ecosystem and the regional specificity of coastal management issues, it makes sense to also adopt a regional approach to the development of the Integrated Ecosystem Assessments. A nested spatial hierarchy of Regional-IEAs (R-IEAs) will synthesize information within ecologically meaningful geographic areas and address regionally specific problems in coastal management. In addition, a series of rigorous and well-coordinated R-IEAs will also serve to identify appropriate indicators and provide consistent measures of the status of ecosystem health. Successful R-IEAs will improve regional-scale management and decision-making for coastal and marine ecosystems by evaluating proposed management strategies and the risks associated with alternative management decisions, while integrating the most appropriate biophysical and socioeconomic information. R-IEAs will also address regional (and sometimes local-scale) management issues by identifying essential coordination steps (e.g. data and information sharing; governance consistency, etc.), resources (e.g. personnel, fiscal), and research gaps (e.g. latitudinal shifts in species distributions and biotic productivity) that should be addressed to make more informed management decisions. Finally, R-IEAs will help build interagency connections, improve communication, and increase exchange of information. Development of R-IEAs will be an important scientific foundation for continuing the West Coast transition toward ecosystem-based management of marine resources. It is also important to recognize that the R-IEAs will contribute essential technical information and forecasting scenarios to comprehensive coastal and marine spatial planning at regional or sub-regional levels."

The Governors’ Alliance is working with the West Coast Ecosystem-Based Management Network, a partnership that includes six community-based initiatives focused on implementing EBM on the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts. The San Juan Initiative, part of the West Coast EBM Network, lasted from 2007-2009 and produced a Final Report assessing necessary actions to restore and preserve ecosystem function in the San Juan Islands. Other Alliance projects include oil spill prevention, a marine debris strategy, seafloor mapping, invasive species removal, and sediment management.