Workshop held in Guam on coral reef ecosystem model

Mariska Weijerman of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division has just returned from a 10-day trip to Guam. Here, she reports on her activities.

With initial funding from the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), Office of Habitat Conservation, and PIFSC and as part of the NOAA Habitat Blueprint Initiative, I am developing a coral reef ecosystem model by adapting the code of the widely used Atlantis Ecosystem Model for a coral reef ecosystem. Atlantis, developed by Beth Fulton, PhD, at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart, Australia, can simulate the complex ecosystem processes that link the physical environment with the associated biological and human communities. It also includes the main steps in an adaptive management cycle (such as feedback from resource managers on performance indicators) and can be used as a decision-support tool that allows for evaluation of ecological and economical cost-benefits of alternative management strategies. A 2007 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which reviewed 20 of the world’s leading ecosystem-modeling platforms, rated CSIRO’s Atlantis Ecosystem Model as the best in the world for evaluation of management strategies at an ecosystem level (FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 477 by Éva E. Plagányi). Atlantis is used by the Australian government and various NOAA Fisheries offices. The application of the Atlantis model to a nearshore, coral-reef-focused system will be novel.

Guam is the focus of my first application of the Atlantis model to coral reef ecosystems. As part of this development process, Val Brown, of PIRO and the liaison for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program in Guam, and I organized a workshop that was held on Nov. 14. From local resource managers, we sought input on the conceptual model (spatial component and the functional groups to include), ecosystem attributes (how should the reef look like and what are the main stressors), ecological and economic indicators (indicators that reflect the ecosystem attributes and stressors), and management scenarios to evaluate. We also discussed the model with biologists from the University of Guam and the Guam Coastal Management Program, both of which have monitoring programs and intimate knowledge of the reefs that can root the model with local knowledge and data sets.

Some of the participants at the recent workshop held on Nov. 14 in the historic Lujan House in Hagåtña, Guam, to discuss the Atlantis model under development for Guam. NOAA photo

Because not everybody was able to attend the workshop and some people had asked for follow-up meetings, we had an additional 6 meetings in the days after the workshop. In total, through both the workshop and other meetings, 26 people participated from 13 different organizations, including the U.S. Navy, local resource management agencies, federal agencies, the University of Guam, and nongovernmental organizations.

Outcomes of the workshop included the identification of the following information and data:

  • Additional data sets and local data to improve various input parameters (for example, habitat use of fish species, life history parameters, and coral growth rates)
  • Ecological and economic indicators (for example, diversity, coral cover, fish biomass, commercial and noncommercial catch values, number of tourists, and invertebrate landings)
  • Various management strategies to model for exploration and evaluation:
    • Cumulative effects of the military buildup
    • Ban on various fishing methods, in certain areas or during spawning season
    • Watershed restoration
    • Strict enforcement of water-quality compliance for sewage outfall
By Mariska Weijerman

Mariska Weijerman and Val Brown discuss the Guam Atlantis Model with Joseph Artero-Cameron (right), who is Guam’s point of contact for coral reef conservation programs, fisheries, and oceans and is president of the Department of Chamorro Affairs. NOAA photo

Evangeline Lujan (left), the administrator of the Guam Coastal Management Program, meets with Val Brown and Mariska Weijerman about the Guam Atlantis Model. NOAA photo

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