Is "Ecosystem Health" a useful concept for coastal managers?
Non Technical Summary
The conservation of coastal ecosystems very much depends on the level of community interest, and interest is in turn dependent on the understanding people have of their relationship with the surrounding environment. The concept of 'healthy ecosystems' is therefore useful in focusing community understanding, due to its familiarity to human health. Unfortunately, the concept is often thought to imply a set of stable conditions. In reality, ecosystems are highly dynamic and rarely close to an equilibrium state. For example, estuaries are in a constant state of change: over long time scales they change their size and location as sea level rises and falls during ice ages, at shorter time scales they fill with eroded sediments, either naturally or because of catchment activities.
Due to ongoing changes in ecosystems, an important aspect of their health assessment is the concept of "least acceptable change"; how much impact will the community accept? This paper is offered in order to stimulate more social input about the desired goods and services that ecosystems provide.