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Designing report cards for aquatic health with a whole-of-system approach: Gladstone Harbour in the Great Barrier Reef
- McIntosh, Emma J., Rolfe, John, Pinto, Uthpala, Kirkwood, John, Greenlee, Madeleine, Poiner, Ian R.
- Ecological indicators 2019 v.102 pp. 623-632
- Internet, accountability, environmental health, environmental indicators, environmental monitoring, fish health, habitat destruction, harbors (waterways), models, stakeholders, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
- Ecosystem health report cards are an increasingly popular means of summarizing the results of environmental monitoring programs for broad, non-scientific audiences. This paper describes a whole-of-system report card initiative developed to monitor the condition of a multi-use port in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Queensland, Australia. Concerns over the impacts of major industrial expansion, fish health incidents, safety of recreational harbour users and habitat loss prompted stakeholders in the Gladstone region to unite and establish the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership. The objective was to monitor and report on the health of the harbour via an annual report card (http://rc.ghhp.org.au/). We illustrate one approach to designing a report card against ten core considerations; 1) strong links to all stakeholders at all stages, 2) rigorous science, 3) effective communication, 4) setting clear goals and 5) realistic expectations, 6) flexibility in implementation, 7) transparency, open access and accountability, 8) results linked to actionable management recommendations, 9) regular evaluation, and 10) long term commitment. Innovative aspects of this report card include the combination of four components of harbour health: environmental, social, cultural and economic; underpinned by a sophisticated monitoring, modelling and reporting program. A review of the report card content and methodology, conducted in 2017, determined that the design meets the original vision and objectives set by Gladstone stakeholders. However, stakeholder perceptions of the effectiveness of the report card have not been comprehensively assessed to date. This paper provides a guide to others designing report card programs and environmental metrics, with advice on maximizing transparency and data sharing, coordinating otherwise disparate monitoring efforts, and linking with management through the provision of scenario analysis tools with which to interpret and respond to annual report card results.