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Extending Seafloor Mapping Products to Include Habitats Greater Than 20 m Depths in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

This project began in January 2015 and was completed in May 2017

We are providing improved seafloor mapping data products for regions of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary deeper than 20 meters. Along with the mapping products, we will create an interactive dataviewer with georeferenced benthic images compiled from partners. Sanctuary managers will use the dataviewer and maps to inform potential boundary expansion, identify sensitive habitats, and design future research efforts.

Why We Care

Containing the world’s third largest barrier reef, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) hosts many research entities every year that collect a staggering amount of data, much of which are mapping products. NCCOS alone has collaborated with FKNMS to collect over 100 square nautical miles of hydrographic multibeam data in the Sanctuary. Not all of these products have been processed using updated methods and are not currently useable for management decisions. Hundreds of benthic images and accompanying data that would aid in groundtruth validation of habitat classifications derived from multibeam data are spread across numerous research groups.

Unfortunately, existing habitat maps do not extend beyond the 20 m depth contour, ignoring a significant portion of the coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, also omitting a vast portion of Tortugas Ecological Reserves.  These outer shelf reefs support diverse corals and fish communities that support ecotourism, fisheries and other ecosystem services. Updated maps and benthic data are needed to adequately assess these important habitats.

The sanctuary is faced with multiple  decisions regarding zoning, fishery ecosystem management requirements, and effective protection of ESA species.  The compilation, quality assessment, and transition of existing data into an accessible map interface would inform these decisions and more on the horizon.

What We Are Doing

We are assembling an inventory of seafloor mapping data from hydrographic multibeam sonar surveys from 2004 – 2016. The data were collected opportunistically in conjunction with other research missions, therefore not all were processed using standardized methods.  We are re-processing data using updated hydrographic survey data processing methods to produce updated seafloor maps complete with bathymetry and backscatter intensity layers. We are reviewing and verifying the quality of depth soundings and measures of seafloor roughness and hardness.

We are also compiling an initial inventory of georeferenced benthic photographs and videos with any accompanying data. All of the map layers and image files will be accessible by an interactive dataviewer. Lastly, we are providing the sanctuary with interim data products to determine gaps in the existing coverage and prioritize mapping efforts during ongoing research missions.

The project involves a synthesis of available information on seafloor mapping activities in the FKNMS.  In addition to NCCOS researchers, will are working with partners at National Marine Fisheries Service-Southeast Fisheries Science Center, University of Miami-Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Impacts of our Work

Interim mapping products have:

  • improved base layers of bathymetry and backscatter intensity for vast majority of Tortugas region of FKNMS.
  • identified data gaps that include regions outside existing marine reserve “no-take” boundaries and under consideration in boundary expansion in the sanctuary regulatory review and EIS.

Next Steps

Where groundtruthing and survey coverage permits, we will develop preliminary seafloor habitat classification maps for select sub-regions.

Additional Resources

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