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NCCOS Project

Spatial Predictive Modeling of Threatened ESA Corals in the U.S. Atlantic and Caribbean

This project began in October 2015 and is projected to be completed in October 2019

We are using predictive mapping to predict Threatened coral species distributions in the U.S. Atlantic and Caribbean and provide interactive maps of predicted distributions. Outputs are data-driven spatial predictions of coral presence/absence or abundance and associated estimates of predictive uncertainty in a readily accessible map format to inform management decisions that may affect ESA coral species.

Why We Care

Resource managers are required to comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which determines the protection status and extinction risk of all known organisms by geographic location. It is essential to know critical habitat of ESA species in specific geographic areas to manage risk, establish or improve the effectiveness of marine protected areas, and identify potential areas for coral restoration and recovery actions. The determinations leading to the listing of 22 coral species as threatened under the U.S. ESA were based on limited, species-level observational data of distributions, abundances, and vulnerabilities to a diverse range of threats. The recent listing process and the final ruling for coral species demonstrated the limitations of our collective ability to quantitatively measure coral potential critical habitats, population status, and assess potential impacts.

Current and historic field monitoring programs such as NOAA’s National Coral Reef Monitoring Program include field surveys of ESA coral occurrence, abundance, health, and demographic patterns in the U.S. Caribbean and Southeast Florida as well as in the Pacific. In these survey data, field effort is conducted over a large geographic area, data availability varies greatly between geographic areas, and field observations may be clustered or too sparse for use in management decision making.

To effectively assess and provide information to managers about the status of threatened coral populations under the current, often data limited situation, we need to develop spatial predictions of ESA corals.

What We Are Doing

  • Creating a spatial database of known ESA coral data in FL and US Caribbean from surveys by federal, state, academic, and NGO partners that will be publicly available via ArcGIS online.
  • Creating predictive models of species distributions of major reef-building corals listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
  • Providing maps of predicted occurrence or abundance and estimates of uncertainty to managers for species-based and place-based management.

We are partnering with multiple offices within NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service: Protected Resources, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Science & Technology, and NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory.

Impacts of Our Work

One of the essential needs for place-based and species-based management is a quantitative spatial assessment of species distribution. Our spatial models of occurrence and abundance for major reef-building corals listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act will address major management questions. Specifically, these models will provide information on:

  • Potential critical habitat areas
  • Potential areas for restoration
  • Abiotic or geomorphologic constraints on potential habitat

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