Improving seafloor habitat mapping coordination on the southeast US coast

A Report from Workshops Hosted by NOAA’s Southeast and Caribbean Regional Collaboration Team

Seafloor habitats from the upper estuary to the outer continental shelf support living marine resources and ecosystems of the Southeast (SE) US Atlantic which in turn support our coastal community economies through fisheries, ecotourism, and other services. Recent population growth and urbanization of watersheds in this region are increasing pressures on these critically important habitats yet our understanding of these impacts is limited because much of this area is poorly mapped if at all.

In 2014 NOAA’s Southeast and Caribbean Regional Collaboration Team (SECART) identified regional seafloor habitat mapping as a focus area to assist with improving our knowledge of data gaps specifically in the Southeast Region (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Atlantic coast of Florida). Coordinating across NOAA offices, other federal agencies, state coastal zone and fisheries management agencies, non-governmental conservation organizations, and academic researchers lead to two workshops hosted by SECART.

The March 2016 workshop was the first opportunity to bring together representatives from a broad group of agencies and organizations to share resources, expertise, and needs for continuing to develop seafloor habitat maps for the coastal ocean. The following are objectives and outcomes from the March 2016 workshop:

Improve regional collaboration and awareness of seafloor mapping activities

Organizers and participants quickly discovered that communication barriers resulted in a general lack of awareness of seafloor mapping activities between agencies and organizations. This workshop succeeded in opening these communication channels for sharing data

Compile seafloor survey data available from government, industry, and academia surveys and compile these into an online data viewer.

  • SE US continental shelf survey coverage expanded by 20% with the inclusion of Department of Defense seafloor data.
  • NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey saved almost $1M in survey costs by including data from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
  • Significant gaps in seafloor maps in the SE US still exist and filling these gaps requires prioritization by management needs

Initiate discussion on management needs, requirements for habitat mapping information, and best practices for collecting data

  • Priority management needs included: protecting sensitive biota (deep coral/rocky reefs), sand resource management, fishery resource assessments, offshore energy development, offshore cultural resources (shipwrecks)

Identify immediate and near-term habitat mapping data priorities by management agencies and research institutions

  • Identifying focal habitat types for mapping efforts: sand shoals, offshore rocky reefs and deep corals, shallow estuarine habitats like seagrass and oyster reefs

A second workshop was held in 2018 workshop further developing three areas:

Receive additional seafloor habitat mapping data from NOAA offices and external partners, sharing through an online data viewer

  • Approximately 400 footprints of survey data, covering nearly 20,000 km2, across the Southeast Atlantic were compiled, along with attributes about the data (e.g. survey area, resolution, min/max depth) and survey methods.

Develop a regional habitat mapping prioritization application for participants to contribute agency and research priorities for habitat mapping to identify mutual areas of interest

  • A web application was created in order to both share the data inventory and to provide an interface for a regional habitat mapping prioritization application. The application is hosted through NOAA’s ArcGIS Online interface and constructed utilizing the help and previous efforts of NOAA NCCOS.

Identify management requirements and review best practices for developing seafloor habitat maps in three coastal ocean habitat types, identified during the 2016 workshop:

  • Shallow estuarine habitats including seagrass and oyster reefs
  • Coastal ocean sand shoals
  • Continental shelf rocky reefs and deep coral reefs, including FL Keys

The workshop report was compiled and edited by: J. Christopher Taylor, Virginia Crothers, Christine A. Buckel, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

SE Habitat Mapping Workshop Report
SE Habitat Mapping Workshop Report Appendices – Part 1
SE Habitat Mapping Workshop Report Appendices – Part 2