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Indicators for Ecosystem Health and Services

Full Title: Indicators and assessment framework for ecological health and ecosystem services

This project identified, developed, and evaluated ecological health and ecosystem services indicators and an associated assessment and decision framework.

The Team: Larry D. McKinney (Lead Investigator, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi,, Mark A. Harwell (Harwell Gentile & Associates, LC), John H. Gentile (Harwell Gentile & Associates, LC), Jace W. Tunnell (Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve), Cristina Carollo (Harte Research Institute, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi), David Yoskowitz (Harte Research Institute, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi), Just Cebrian [Dauphin Island Sea Lab (Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium)] and Kiersten Madden Stanzel (Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve)

Technical Monitor: Becky Allee (

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (

 Project Timeframe: September 2015 to August 2018.

Award Amount: $398,349

Why it matters: An indicator is a measure of a component or process in an ecosystem that can serve as a proxy for overall condition of the ecosystem. This project identified ecosystem and ecosystem service indicators that can be used with a decision-support tool to support restoration and sustainable management of the Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve and its surrounding ecosystem.

What the team did:

The investigators surveyed and evaluated existing ecological health and ecosystem services indicators including their links to human well-being and reviewed assessment and decision frameworks for their applicability and utility in the Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (MANERR) ecosystem. The investigators developed an integrated assessment and decision-support tool using associated indicators based on what they learned and tailored that work to management needs of the MANERR and its surrounding ecosystem. This approach provided a simple measure of the health of the ecosystem and its link to human well-being.

The indicators were used to develop a decision-support tool and perform a suitability analysis of rookery islands in the MANERR surrounding ecosystem to identify and prioritize sites for restoration, conservation, or new construction. This application demonstrated the usefulness of indicators.

Project Outputs and Outcomes: The investigators presented the integrated approach to local resource managers and evaluated its potential utility for use broadly in the Gulf of Mexico. This work led to a larger effort for the entirety of the State of Texas, leading to a State of Texas Report Card.

Management Impacts: US Fish and Wildlife managers were able to use the indicators and the Rookery Island decision support tool developed during this project to assess restoration options for rookery islands that were impacted by a hurricane in 2017.

Other Resources

Rookery Island Suitability Analysis – Final report by Kiersten Stanzel, PhD. The purpose of the rookery island suitability index was to remove some of the uncertainty involved in selection of potential locations for rookery island creation and restoration. The 30 priority sites identified in this study provide a tool for resource managers and conservation organizations that are considering the creation of new islands or the restoration of existing islands along the mid‐Texas coast. Report Appendix.

Mission-Aransas Pilot Study: A Proof-of-Concept Demonstration of the Gulf EcoHealth Metrics Decision-Support Framework -presented at Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference (2017)

Indicators and Assessment Framework for Ecological Health and Ecosystem Services – presented at Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference (2017)

A Proof-of-Concept Application of a New Ecosystem Assessment/Decision Framework: Restoring Rookery Islands of the Mission-Aransas Reserve – presented at One NOAA seminar series.