Integrated Assessment of Ecosystem Condition and Stressor Impacts in Submerged Habitats of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve
Project Status: This project began in May 2014 and is Ongoing
The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve is rich with scenic beauty and economic value, supporting the vast majority of the commercially and recreationally valuable fish and shellfish found in Northeast Florida. Capitalizing on the reserve’s relatively pristine condition and unique climate and biodiversity, we will establish baseline conditions that can be used to measure future environmental change from natural and human impacts.
Why We Care
The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Reserve) encompasses approximately 73,352 acres of salt marsh and mangrove tidal wetlands, oyster bars, estuarine lagoons, upland habitat, and offshore seas in Northeast Florida.
The GTM Reserve is rich with scenic beauty and economic value, as it produces or supports the vast majority of the commercially and recreationally valuable fish and shellfish found in the region. The submerged lands, marshes, islands, and conservation lands provide important habitat for a diversity of plants and animals, including migrating birds, the northernmost extent of mangrove habitat on the east coast of the United States, and important calving grounds for the endangered Right Whale. Of important note are the many species of subtropical and temperate plants and animals that co-inhabit the reserve, making it a key location to study climate change and other global ecological processes.
The reserve’s relatively pristine condition and unique climate and biodiversity are ideal for scientific research and study. An in-depth assessment of the Reserve’s current ecological conditions and potential stressor impacts will serve as a baseline for detecting future change in relation to both natural and human disruptions, from climate change and coastal storms to pollution and coastal development.
What We Are Doing
We will assess the ecological condition and potential stressor impacts throughout submerged habitats of the GTM Reserve along the northeastern coast of Florida, using multiple indicators of biological and environmental condition, including:
general habitat characteristics (water quality, depth, sediment quality, nutrients, and chlorophyll)
potential stressors (chemical contaminants, fecal coliforms, incidence of hypoxia/anoxia, and organic matter over-enrichment)
biological condition (sediment toxicity and diversity and health of benthic communities)
human-health risks and aesthetics
Because of the large size of the GTM Reserve, we are focusing on sub-tidal portions of the main rivers and may need to exclude tidal creeks and the ocean portion of the northern reserve. Upon completion, our work will provide a model for similar monitoring and assessment applications in other National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) sites around the country.
Our results will act as a baseline for observing changing conditions within the reserve over time in relation to either natural or anthropogenic factors. Resulting data from individual measures of water quality, sediment quality, and biological condition will be combined into an overall habitat quality index (HQI). Scores for the combined HQI and any of the component indicators will be used to create simple maps of the spatial distribution of habitat quality, showing varying levels of condition from good to bad. These maps will provide a simple, easy-to-interpret tool to help inform management decision making by portraying major patterns and trends in resource quality, identifying potential vulnerable and other special areas that need management attention, or in translating scientific findings to stakeholders to enhance public awareness of the reserve’s resources and current state of health.
The project team includes partners from NCCOS, NOAA’s Office of Coastal Resource Management and Coastal Services Center, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, with potential interest from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
Related Region of Study: Florida
Primary Contact: Jeff Hyland
Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Ecological Forecasts and Tools, Biogeographic Assessment, Marine Spatial Planning, Protected Species)
Related NCCOS Center: CCEHBR