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Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program - 2013-02-08

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The value of environmental assessment

By Jim Hawhee, APNEP Policy and Engagement Manager
February 8, 2013

We’re pleased to announce that the final version of APNEP’s Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem Assessment is now available for review online.  It presents a peer-reviewed technical analysis of 24 environmental indicators in the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed, which together begin to quantitatively frame the state of this system both now and in the recent past.

We invite you to peruse chapters of interest, detailing indicators like land cover extent, chlorophyll-a concentrations, shad abundance, estuarine salinity, and many more.  While this document was designed as a professional and scientific reference, it contains valuable insights for all with interests in the Albemarle-Pamlico region.

To celebrate this milestone for the partnership, we present an excerpt from the document’s opening chapter, entitled “The value of environmental assessment:”

In a very concrete way, the health and wealth of humankind are fully dependent on the natural resources and ecological processes of the earth.  Eons ago, the earth’s atmosphere was a cauldron of noxious gases, uninhabitable by all but the hardiest of bacteria.  Over time, geological and biological processes have shaped the environment familiar to us today, both in the Albemarle-Pamlico region and across the globe.  As human knowledge and technology have advanced, we have learned to harness our natural resources in increasingly innovative ways. 

Geological resources form the basis of our manmade materials and most of our energy, providing a foundation for the world’s $70 trillion annual economy.  Ecological processes like the cycling of water and the creation of oxygen also support life-sustaining processes in ways that cannot be measured in dollars alone.

In the course of human progress, it has become evident that human activities can alter the very processes that support our way of life.  In response to this reality, government agencies and other organizations implement policies and invest billions of dollars maintaining and improving the quality of our environment. 

The successful management of our natural environment is predicated on our ability to define and measure the things that make it healthy.  Environmental managers have long measured elements of the ecosystem germane to their areas of expertise, and scientists have likewise conducted focused studies to better understand ecological processes.

Unfortunately, efforts to monitor broader ecosystems across a landscape scale traditionally suffer from a lack of coordination, information, and resources.  Where these assessments have been conducted, ecosystem-scale efforts designed to address areas of weakness have only been conducted in an ad hoc way. 

Monitoring and assessment serve a number of purposes.  Analogous to a routine doctor’s visit, taking measures of ecosystem health provides objective information about the status of the environment for managers and policymakers to consider.  It helps prevent a shifting baseline by providing quantifiable information about the way things were in the past.  Assessments tell us whether efforts to protect the environment are working and are absolutely essential to ensure accountability for natural resource management agencies.  Finally, comprehensive and routine ecosystem-scale assessments will be required if ecosystem-based management efforts are to effectively take hold in the Albemarle-Pamlico region.

If you have questions or comments about the Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem Assessment, please contact Program Scientist Dean Carpenter.

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