Frequently Asked Questions

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The following Q&A provides background information relating to the ONMS Condition Reports.

  1. Condition reports are used by NOAA to assess the condition and trends of national marine sanctuary resources and ecosystem services. These reports provide a standardized summary of resources in NOAA’s sanctuaries, driving forces and pressures on those resources, and current conditions and trends for resources and ecosystem services. These reports also describe existing management responses to pressures that threaten the integrity of the marine environment. Condition reports include information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources, maritime heritage resources, and the human activities that affect them. They present responses to a set of questions posed to all sanctuaries. The reports also rate the status and trends of ecosystem services. Resource and ecosystem service status are assigned ratings ranging from good to poor, and the timelines used for comparison vary from topic to topic. Trends in the status of resources and ecosystem services are also reported, and unless otherwise specified, are generally based on observed changes in status since the prior condition report.
  1. Although the units in the National Marine Sanctuary System are diverse in many ways, including size, location, and resources, condition reports allow ONMS to consistently analyze and report the status and trends of resources and ecosystem services, ultimately serving as a tool to determine if the sanctuaries are achieving their resource protection and improvement goals.
  1. The reports serve as a tool for resource managers, researchers, policy makers and educators. These groups, as well as anyone else interested in participating in the review process for sanctuary management plans, use the reports as supporting documents for identifying and proposing specific management actions. They also serve as a reporting tool to be used by policy makers, particularly within NOAA and the Department of Commerce, and are used as education and outreach tools. The reports are distributed to constituents and made available to the general public at events and on the internet.
  1. Sanctuary condition reports are structured around two frameworks: 1) a series of questions posed to all national marine sanctuaries; and 2) a management-logic model called the Driving forces (Drivers)-Pressure-State-Ecosystem Services-Response (DPSER) Framework. The first stems from the generic structure of an ecosystem, and is used as the logic framework for the reports, while the second defines the structure of the condition reports themselves.

    All reports include the following elements:

    • D: Driving Forces and Pressures on the Sanctuary
    • P: State of Drivers and Pressures
    • S: State of Sanctuary Resources
    • E: State of Ecosystem Services
    • R: Response to Pressures
  1. Condition reports include information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources, and maritime heritage resources, and the human activities that affect them. They also include information on the status and trends of ecosystem services.

    To assess resources and ecosystem services, workshops with subject matter experts are convened by ONMS staff to discuss a series of questions about each resource area and relevant ecosystem services. During these workshops, indicators for each topic are presented, accompanied by datasets that ONMS compiles prior to the meetings. Workshop attendees are asked to review the indicators and datasets, identify data gaps or misrepresentations, and suggest any additional datasets that may be relevant. Once all datasets are reviewed, experts then discuss the statements provided as options for judgments about status (note that these statements have been customized for each resource question). Once a particular statement is agreed upon, a color code and status rating (good, good/fair, fair, fair/poor, poor) is assigned. Experts can also decide that the most appropriate rating is “N/A” (i.e., the question does not apply), “Undetermined” (i.e., resource status is undetermined due to a paucity of relevant information), or “Mixed” (i.e., resource status across a number of indicators varies to the extent that the selection of a status rating is not possible).

    A subsequent discussion is then held about the trend. Conditions are determined to be improving, remaining the same, or worsening. Trends are based on observed changes in status since the prior condition report (trends are not predictive). Symbols used to indicate trends are the same for all questions: “▲”—conditions appear to be improving; “▬”—conditions do not appear to be changing; “▼”—conditions appear to be worsening; “↕” —conditions appear to be mixed; “?”—trend is undetermined; “N/A”—the question does not apply.

    After assigning status and trend ratings, experts are also asked to assign a level of confidence for each value by: (1) characterizing the sources of information they used to make judgments; and (2) their agreement with the selected status and trend ratings. The evidence and agreement ratings are then combined to determine the overall confidence rating.

  1. The 16 questions derive from the Office of National Marine Sanctuary mission, and a system-wide monitoring framework developed to ensure the timely flow of data and information to those responsible for managing and protecting resources in the ocean and coastal zone, and to those that use, depend on, and study the ecosystems encompassed by the sanctuaries. The 16 questions are general in nature so that they can be asked within any marine ecosystem and at any spatial scale. Much more specific questions might be asked at any given marine sanctuary, forming the basis for tailored site monitoring programs.
  1. Each question will be answered using a “status and trends” reporting system. Each question will be assigned a color to denote status and a symbol to denote the trend.

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  1. The process for preparing condition reports involves a combination of accepted techniques for collecting and interpreting information gathered from subject matter experts. The approach varies somewhat from sanctuary to sanctuary, in order to accommodate different styles for working with partners. Most sanctuaries employ an approach closely related to the Delphi Method, a technique designed to organize group communication among a panel of geographically dispersed experts by using questionnaires, ultimately facilitating the formation of a group judgment. This method can be applied when it is necessary for decision makers to combine the testimony of a group of experts, whether in the form of facts or informed opinion, or both, into a single useful statement.

    To address the standardized state of the ecosystem questions and the Ecosystem Services, ONMS selects and consults with subject matter experts who are familiar with water quality, habitat, living resources, maritime heritage resources, and socioeconomics in the sanctuary. Workshops are typically held to discuss and evaluate a set of indicators and associated data sets related to each of the 16 questions and ecosystem services.

    1. The condition reports include a comprehensive narrative and supporting figures for each resource question and ecosystem service that was assessed. Reports are drafted by a team of ONMS staff, which summarize information (including the assessed indicators and supporting data sets), expert opinions, and levels of confidence expressed by the experts. Comments, data, and citations received from the experts are included, as appropriate, in the narrative and figures supporting the ratings.

    1. Yes, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, in consultation with other NOAA legal and program staff, has determined that the Condition Reports are appropriately considered Influential Scientific Information. For this reason, these reports are subject to the review requirements of the White House Office of Management and Budget as outlined in the Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review. More information on this is on the Office of the Chief Information Officer website.

    1. Condition reports are revised in advance of each sanctuary’s management plan review process, approximately every 10 years.