The West Hawaii Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) is an approach necessary for effective ecosystem-based management of the west coast of the Big Island. Read more on the this approach below. 


West Hawaii IEA region


Bathymetry map of the Hawaiian Islands. The red outlined area off Hawaii Island indicates the West Hawai'i IEA region.

Featured Project: Coral Reefs Vulnerable to Climate Change

Coral reef in Hawaii


Hawaiian coral reef communities and local people have always been connected. Actions taken to reduce coral reef vulnerability are in the spirit of maintaining the strength of these connections as the climate changes. Management actions that limit or restrict human activities on the west coast of the island of Hawaii (West Hawaii) will increase coral reefs ability to resist and recover from climate change and other disturbances. Targeting and tailoring management these management actions on areas that are most vulnerable to climate change can give reefs in West Hawai‘i the best chance of coping with climate change. Read about IEA efforts to assess coral vulnerability to climate and human activities

About the West Hawaii Integrated Ecosystem Assessment

In a collaborative effort with researchers, managers, and community members, NOAA scientists are using the IEA approach to provide ecosystem science to support natural resource management off the west coast of Hawaii Island (referred to as “West Hawaii”). In contrast to more conventional approaches to resource management, the IEA relies on collaborative, interdisciplinary, and adaptive methods to consider interactions among multiple components of West Hawaii’s coastal and marine ecosystem and recognizes that local communities are an integral part of the ecosystem. As such, the West Hawai‘i IEA approach recognizes that an understanding of the whole social and ecological system, not simply the individual components, is necessary to conserve marine ecosystems and the benefits and services they provide.

How is the West Hawai‘i IEA supporting Ecosystem-Based Management?

The West Hawaii IEA (WHIEA) team is carrying out key steps in the IEA approach to enhance the likelihood of successful implementation of Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) in the region. Some key steps include:

  • defining the ecosystem and specific ecosystem objectives
  • assessing ecosystem status through development and monitoring of indicators
  • identifying and prioritizing key sources of vulnerability and risk
  • quantitative ecosystem modeling to evaluate the potential of different management strategies to mitigate risk and achieve objectives

The IEA is both an incremental approach to decision making and an iterative process, where scientific understanding feeds an array of management tradeoffs, and balances feedback from changing ecosystem objectives. Furthermore, the IEA framework can be scaled to yield applications and products that meet the complexity or geography of specific EBM objectives (Harvey et al. 2017).

To learn more about how the WHIEA is applying the approach to different EBM objectives go to the projects page here.

Defining the West Hawaii ecosystem and specific ecosystem objectives

The West Hawaii IEA is working directly with management bodies to provide robust ecosystem science information needed to be successful in achieving their management goals.

The West Hawai‘i IEA team is working closely with:

  • the State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) to support their efforts in effectively managing 30% of Hawaii’s nearshore waters by 2030
  • the local community to develop an understanding of the ways that communities connect with and value the place of West Hawaii in order to find tangible ways to incorporate well-being into management

Assessing West Hawaii Ecosystem through Indicators

West Hawaii is a highly productive and diverse marine ecosystem and is home to the longest contiguous coral reef in the main Hawaiian Islands. The surrounding waters support an abundance of tropical corals and reef fishes, of which nearly a quarter are found nowhere else in the world. The coastal region provides habitat for spinner dolphins, false killer whales, green sea turtles, humpback whales, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

Importantly, the marine ecosystem in West Hawaii supports numerous ecosystem services that are of tremendous value to the local community, including recreation and tourism, protection from wave and storm impacts, seafood, and the preservation of cultural practices.

Through a collaborative and participatory process, the West Hawaii IEA team has assembled a suite of ecosystem indicators useful for assessing the status and tracking the trends in West Hawaii’s marine ecosystem. These indicators are compiled in the West Hawaii Ecosystem Status Report.

To learn more about the West Hawaii Ecosystem Status Report please visit here.

To learn more about the West West Hawaii Indicators go here.

Identifying and Prioritizing Key Risks in West Hawaii

In recent decades, the ecological processes underlying this dynamic region are increasingly being altered. Local stressors such as coastal development, wastewater pollution, sedimentation, and fishing pressure are undermining marine ecosystem function. Impacts of climate change, such as increasing sea surface temperatures and rising sea levels, are exacerbating these local stressors, contributing to the overall decline in the condition of coral reef ecosystems in West Hawaii.

To see examples of how the WHIEA is conducting a risk assessment please visit our projects page here.

Evaluating different management strategies to mitigate risk and achieve objectives in West Hawaii

An EBM approach that recognizes the importance of interacting social and ecological systems is needed to effectively manage the marine ecosystem and associated services in West Hawaii. EBM broadens the focus of management to the entire ecosystem and specifically links the actions of society to the ecological system. The goal is to better understand and therefore manage, how those societal actions influence the many ecosystem services and benefits, and associated values.

To see an example of how the WHIEA is conducting management strategy evaluations please visit our projects page here.


The West Hawaii Integrated Ecosystem Assessment builds relationships with State and Federal agencies, academic institutions, non-governmental, non-profit and community organizations to conduct science that meets resource management needs. Here are some of the key collaborators and partners supporting efforts in the region:

State of Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources
Responsible for managing, conserving, and restoring the State’s unique aquatic resources and ecosystems for present and future generations through programs in ecosystem management, place-based management, and fisheries management.

West Hawai‘i Fishery Council
Serves as advisory body per legislative mandate to the Department of Land and Natural Resources to provide for substantive involvement of the community in resource management decisions and encourage scientific research and monitoring of the nearshore resources and environment from Upolu Point to Ka Lae.

The Nature Conservancy - Hawai‘i
Works to gather, apply, and share knowledge about Hawaii’s marine resources in partnership with researchers, community groups, fishermen, and others committed to understanding and improving management of Hawaii’s reefs and fisheries.

Conservation International - Hawai‘i
Focused on work that merges traditional knowledge with Western science, conservation tools and strategies for changing how communities and businesses value local, sustainable seafood.

West Hawai‘i Habitat Focus Area
Aims to increase the effectiveness of NOAA’s efforts to improve habitat conditions for fisheries, coastal and marine life, along with other economic, cultural, and environmental benefits our society needs and enjoys.

University of Hawai‘i
The University of Hawai‘i is a key collaborator focused on integrated and comprehensive research of Earth and planetary observations, working to transform the way people live on Earth by enabling a healthy public, economy, and planet.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 100 Island Challenge
The 100 Island Challenge is a collaborative effort lead by the Sandin Lab investigating the independent and interacting effects of oceanography, geography, and human activities in affecting the structure and growth of coral reef communities.

Center for Global Diversity and Conservation Science at ASU
GDCS leads spatially-explicit scientific and technological research focused on mitigating and adapting to global environmental change. The Center’s mission is to generate innovative scientific discoveries and outcomes that benefit conservation, resource management, and policy efforts

Human-land-sea connections are relationships that are mutually beneficial and sustainable. SymbioSeas seeks to develop these relationships through scientist-manager-community collaborations that connect managers to science and people to the environment.

Scripps School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University
The interactions of marine organisms with their environment is a key research topic in the School of Ocean Sciences. Specific focus areas include understanding how human activities and natural biophysical gradients interact to drive community patterns across multiple trophic levels (microbes to sharks) and spatial scales (individual coral reefs to entire ocean basins).


Jamison Gove
A research oceanographer focused on understanding coastal marine ecosystems and the influence of natural environmental fluctuations, local human activities, and climate change on ecosystem function and structure.
Google Scholar page

Joey Lecky
A Geographic Information Systems Specialist and cartographer interested in mapping human activities and their impacts on marine ecosystems, remote sensing, biogeographic patterns, and map products for public education and outreach.
Google Scholar page 

Kirsten Leong
A social scientist focused on understanding how different stakeholders perceive and interact with marine resources and are affected by and affect potential resource management actions.
Google Scholar page 

Rebecca Ingram
An environmental social scientist examining how society interacts and relies upon coastal and marine ecosystems. She investigates how connections between biophysical conditions and ecosystem services influence human well-being.

Jonathan Whitney
A postdoctoral research fellow focused on understanding how the early stages of marine fishes (eggs, larvae, and juveniles) interact with the coastal marine environment and how these interactions impact survival, transport, and ultimately recruitment.
Google Scholar page 

Katharine Smith
A postdoctoral research fellow focused on understanding how nearshore physical processes, such as tides, internal waves, and eddies, can affect coastal marine ecosystems.

Jana Phipps
A research technician working on a long-term time series of icthyoplankton collected off West Hawai‘i. The project is exploring aspects of plankton communities and how they may be influenced by anthropogenic and natural environmental change.

Emily Contreras
A research assistant focused on icthyoplankton and understanding community composition and the influence of anthropogenic and environmental changes on these communities over time.

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