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Ecosystem Characterization and Biogeographic Assessment

Ecosystem Characterization and Biogeographic Assessment
NCCOS divers returning after conducting a habitat survey at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Our characterizations and assessments help places like the sanctuary target their limited resources into the most important management issues. Photo credit: Paula Whitfield

Good planning, management, and restoration depend on understanding the site. NCCOS has advanced the practice of ecosystem characterization and biogeographic assessment using GIS to integrate and analyze biological, physical, chemical, and socioeconomic information about our coasts.

Each project is tailored to meet the needs of its users, often coastal managers or communities trying to make a decision about what areas to protect or where to site a development project with minimal impact to the environment, but follows a general process.

We collect imagery, bathymetry, bottom type, and oceanographic information for a site, frequently heading to the field to gather the most critical missing data ourselves. Scuba, drop cameras, and acoustic technology are used to learn which species are found in association with which habitats. Once we understand which species favor which habitats and, equally important, where species are not likely to be found, we can use that information to build predictive models. If our data is good enough, we can create a species distribution map for the entire site, despite having only made a relatively modest number of observations.

Ecological and biogeographic characterizations, maps, assessments, and other products provide managers, scientists and communities with up-to-date information to conserve the nation’s marine resources. Most projects are done in cooperation with academic, state, federal and private sector partners who share their data and expertise.