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NCCOS Project

Seafloor Characterization of the U.S. Caribbean

This project began in January 2004 and is Ongoing

Since 2004, we have been conducting seafloor mapping of the U.S. Caribbean, to fill critical informational gaps to support improved management measures in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, targeting high priority sites identified by Jurisdictional managers. This project uses NOAA ship and aircraft to collect and provide detailed information about the depth, topography, and composition of the seafloor (approximately 5–1,000 m water depth) from which we can produce maps of benthic habitats.

Why We Care
The condition and extent of coral reef ecosystems and fish populations in the U.S. Caribbean is still poorly understood in many areas. The collection of these data by NCCOS has provided critical informational to drive management decisions in areas ranging in depth from 5 to 1000m by filling data gaps. The lack of continuous spatial information beyond divable depths (30m) NOAA’s Coral Health and Monitoring Program (NCRMP) has limited the ability of resource managers to understand the condition and extent of coral reef resources; this project fills that gap.

What We Are Doing
In order to provide seafloor information to conserve Caribbean coral reef ecosystems, we use acoustic multibeam sensors, fish acoustic sensors, oceanographic sensors, LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and remotely operated vehicle to map and characterize the size and shape of physical habitats important for explaining fish distribution patterns. Our activities target high priority sites identified by local and regional managers where significant information gaps exist, and, where the absence of sufficient biophysical modeling information has inhibited an evaluation of the effectiveness of potential management actions.

Our seafloor mapping of high priority sites using the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster and NOAA aircraft has been supported by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program since 2004 and we have successfully completed seafloor mapping of 3,000 km2 in the U.S. Caribbean. Our efforts are focused on filling data gaps in the highest management priority areas. In addition, our data and related products are used by others, in following with the objective of the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) effort, “Map once, use many times.”

Benefits of Our Work
The products outlined linked below will provide a critical spatial framework for informing and understanding relationships in coastal coral reef ecosystems (5–1,000 m) within the U.S. Caribbean. Resource managers have expressly identified the need for additional data in the coastal environment, which is exceedingly difficult to collect over large areas other than with ships and aircraft. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Jurisdictions have identified the need of seafloor mapping data for use in regulatory, management, infrastructure siting, damage assessment, and monitoring design applications. Specific instances include addressing issues related to over-fishing, recreational/commercial fisheries, restoration, land-based sources of pollution, permitting activities, MPA identification, place-based management, coastal intelligence, safe maritime navigation, coastal inundation modeling, marine spatial planning, and other scientific research.

One example of the impact of this work is the recent Caribbean Council proposal to modify closure regulations for three seasonally closed areas off Puerto Rico. Our efforts were critical in collecting information for these closure areas to inform management decisions.

Next Steps
This project is ongoing and continues to focus and collect data in priority areas identified by Jurisdictional partners. We will continue to: develop map products from the at-sea survey efforts; explore stronger linkages to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service regarding fishery independent sampling surveys; and efforts to identify fish aggregations sites.

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