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Predictive Modeling and Mapping of Hardbottom Seafloor Habitats off the Southeast U.S.

This project began in February 2011 and was completed in December 2014

Detailed maps of seafloor habitats along the southeast U.S. coast are sparse. While efforts to explore and map fish habitats have increased, predictions of additional hardbottom locations would help regional fisheries managers target new survey areas and coastal managers find important habitats. Our models and maps will better represent the distribution of hardbottom locations, support ecosystem management, reduce uncertainty in fish stock assessments, and improve delineation of ocean habitats.

Why We Care
Historically, the shelf and shelf-edge waters along the southeast coast of the U.S. supported a productive snapper-grouper fish complex. Hardbottom habitats—areas of solid substrate and rock outcroppings where organisms such as corals and sponges attach and grow, attracting invertebrates, fish and other organisms—are crucial for many fish species. Overfishing has reduced some fish populations on well-known banks, increasing the importance of identifying new areas that may support these marine resources. Predictive models and habitat maps are useful for gaining a better understanding of the spatial distribution of hardbottom habitats.

What We Are Doing
We are working with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS) program to expand what is known about the spatial distribution of hardbottom habitats important to the snapper-grouper complex and other marine animals. We are using statistical models to integrate information on the location of known hardbottom habitats, along with broader environmental and seafloor characteristics to predict and map the location of likely hardbottom habitats. We are then validating these models by comparison with information collected by video, diver surveys, and sonar surveys conducted aboard NOAA ships. The study area for this project includes state and federal waters (from the coast out to 300 meters depth), from North Carolina to northeast Florida.

What We Found
We are developing products and findings that we expect will be available in December 2014. Products will consist of models and maps of hardbottom habitats off the Southeast U.S., metadata, and a short report documenting methods.

Benefits of Our Work
The models and maps we are producing will be used by fisheries managers to guide future sampling efforts and build a more complete picture of where important hardbottom seafloor habitats are located in the southeast region of the U.S.

Next Steps
When this project is complete, we will be working with our partners to continue validating and improving this model, to collect finer scale data on specific areas, and to incorporate predicted hardbottom areas into fishery-independent sampling surveys.

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