South Atlantic LCC

Setting a course for a sustainable landscape

State of ecosystems

Download the 2015 State of the South Atlantic

>>Click here for a web-view pdf!

>>Click here for a print-quality pdf!

Is the file taking too long to load? Right click the link and select "Save link as" to download a local copy to your computer.

What is the State of the South Atlantic?

The 2015 State of the South Atlantic evaluates the ecological integrity of the South Atlantic using natural and cultural resource indicators. The indicators are scored across the entire South Atlantic region, for individual ecosystems, and within seven subregions following watershed and ecoregional boundaries. This first report uses the best available science and region-wide spatial data to establish a baseline for measuring future trends. You can think of it as a snapshot in time, telling us how our lands and waters are doing today.


Frequently Asked Questions

The South Atlantic LCC's website is approaching a major redesign, so a full online companion to the State of the South Atlantic is coming soon. In the meantime, please review the answers to a few common questions for additional information. If you have any questions, please contact

Where can I learn more about the process for selecting, testing, and revising indicators?

>>Visit the South Atlantic LCC's indicator page.

Where can I view geospatial information and see metadata for the individual indicators?

>>Visit the folder of Blueprint 2.0 indicators on the Conservation Planning Atlas.

How are the indicators used for Blueprint 2.0 different from those used in the State of the South Atlantic?

Though both efforts draw from the same set of indicators, they differ in a couple of key ways.

  • All the South Atlantic's natural and cultural resource indicators are measurable and are included in Blueprint 2.0.  However, not all scores were included in the State of the South Atlantic. Any indicator that appears as "baseline for future; not scored" in the report was not included in the State of the South Atlantic. 
  • In two cases, the way an indicator was calculated changed slightly.
    • The index of coastal condition, modified from EPA's Coastal Condition Index, is calculated in the Blueprint by interpolating sampled points. This provides the necessary spatial coverage for the more spatially detailed Blueprint. In the State of the South Atlantic, that level of detailed spatial coverage wasn't necessary, so it was calculated by averaging sampled points for better consistency with EPA's overall sampling approach and intended use of those data.
    • In the current Blueprint drafts, structural connectivity, because it is a core part of the conservation design and interacts with the other indicators, has also been calculated differently. This may change after feedback from workshops in March and April 2015.

Why were some indicators not scored in the State of the South Atlantic?

There are several reasons why indicators were marked "baseline for future; not scored" in the State of the South Atlantic. The 2015 assessment establishes the current condition baseline so that the next assessment may compare indicator status against 2015 to inform future scores.

  • Some extent indicators (e.g., acres of maritime forest) lack the necessary historic data to put the current value into context. Though the indicator, for example, tells us how many acres of maritime forest exist today, we don't have good enough past data to convert the decline in extent to a specific letter grade.
  • Other indicators are relative measures that identify where the top percentage of the indicator occurs (e.g., the beach bird index). So the indicator identifies, for example, the highest concentration of beach birds--even if all the numbers are skewed much lower than they should be by human activity. The method of calculating these relative indicators may be changed in the next indicator revision cycle to avoid this issue in the future. 

Why do some State of the South Atlantic indicator names not match what appears in the Blueprint on the CPA and Simple Viewer?

Deciding on short and sweet indicator names in the State of the South Atlantic was challenging. Some indicators had long, complicated names like "low impervious surface watersheds" that needed to be shortened and translated into plain language. For one freshwater aquatic and one beach and dune indicator, we settled on "impervious surface" and "altered beaches". When the South Atlantic LCC started the indicator selection and revision process, we decided to frame all the indicators in a positive way, so that higher indicator scores were always better. In these two cases, the names didn't really match the scores. Ecologically, high impervious surface can be a bad thing. But a high score on the impervious surface indicator meant there was a low amount of impervious surface in that watershed, which is good. This was easy to work around in the State of the South Atlantic because we used words like "better" and "worse" instead of "high" and "low". And an "A" is universally understood to be better than a "C". 

However, when we decided to use the State of the South Atlantic names in the Blueprint for consistency, this introduced some confusion. Is high beach alteration good or bad? Lesson learned--this is why we initially adopted the rule of all positive indicators! Even though the names might be slightly less clear, we renamed these two indicators "permeable surface" and "unaltered beaches". These names are being updated in the Conservation Planning Atlas and the Simple Viewer, and the next version of the State of the South Atlantic will adopt the new names, as well!

The bottom line is that the scoring hasn't changed--higher scores always reflect better ecological condition in the South Atlantic indicators. Renaming these two indicators ensures the names match the score. So high permeable surface? Good. High unaltered beach? Also good.


How were the thresholds for "good condition" determined?

The "good condition" threshold was based whenever possible on the peer-reviewed literature.  In the absence of peer-reviewed science, the thresholds are based on expert judgement.  When no biological thresholds could be determined because of insufficient historical data to define "good", indicators were not included in the final score calculations. >>Click here to view a spreadsheet defining the good condition thresholds for each indicator and showing how each indicator score was calculated.

Where can I find all the detailed scores?

Ah, so you're a detail person!  Do you want to see the numeric indicator scores, rather than just grades?  Want to see the scores for each indicator by subregion?  >>Click here to view a spreadsheet containing all the scores.

Can I use these the State of the South Atlantic as a template for assessing my subregion?

In a word, yes! The design team for this project, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Integration and Application Network, is committed to freely sharing its products, from each piping plover icon to its complete InDesign templates. So if you'd like to use the South Atlantic's ecosystem indicators to assess a more limited portion of the South Atlantic's geography, the scores can be recalculated for a smaller area and you can tailor the stories and interpretations to make them your own.

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