There is little doubt that the environment is changing over time because of human activity such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation, pesticide use and over-dependence on (and over disposal of) man-made materials that do not degrade gracefully in landfills. There is not, however, one answer to how humans can and should respond to reverse the trend. It is clear, however, that we need more data to understand exactly what is happening and what changes might mitigate future problems.
But, monitoring in isolation might not be enough. The ecosystem requires a systems view for analysis and solution. However, data are collected by a number of federal, tribal, state, local, academic and private sources. In fact, in the U.S. alone, there are, however, over 170 monitoring programs plus 4 federal programs just for the U.S. coastal waters and their tributaries. These groups represent various types of data collected by a variety of methods within various environmental settings and part of the water.
Until recently, those various groups were not coordinated in their data collection methods. The lack of comparability made both understanding and monitoring difficult and inhibited sharing or cross fertilization of the data.
In 2006, the various groups joined forces to develop a National Water Quality Monitoring Network, which coordinates the data collection so the various components can be shared and we can develop a more comprehensive view of the health of the oceans and coastal ecosystems. But, there is still more coordination needed to get the various countries to be able to share data, and the various other environmental measurement within countries to share data. But, it is a start.