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.