The Northwest Atlantic region has well-developed ocean observation systems, ecosystem surveys and habitat studies, but it remains a challenge to organize existing information and effectively communicate it to stakeholders and decision-makers. IEAs are "a synthesis and quantitative analysis of information on relevant physical, chemical, ecological, and human processes in relation to specified ecosystem management objectives" (Levin et al., 2009), and they are a central element of ecosystem-based management.
WGNARS is working to develop guidance on how to develop more effective linkages between scientific knowledge and management through the iterative five-step IEA process, which includes scoping to identify the goals and objectives of ecosystem management, development of indicators and thresholds, analysis of risk from human activities and natural processes, assessment of ecosystem status relative to the defined objectives, and management strategy evaluation. This guidance is informed by discussions with US and Canadian scientists and resource managers in multiple sectors, as well as incorporation of ICES best practices for IEA.
WGNARS' spatial scope focuses on the Northwest Atlantic continental shelf, but inshore or offshore areas may also be considered, as required by the objective at hand. The group's work has been organized into four theme areas, climate, biodiversity, habitat, and socio-economic considerations. Highlights of the first three years have included development of a comprehensive list of indicators that represent a triad of drivers reflecting major ecosystem features and processes, including human, internal, and external drivers, development of a statement of principles for IEA indicators, and progress on development of thresholds for indicators and on models for evaluating trade-offs among different objectives.