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New Report Details Agency Priorities for Mapping Coral Reef Ecosystems in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Published on: 02/27/2023

NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) utilizes benthic (sea floor) mapping data on coral reef ecosystems to support a diversity of science-based management decisions. To efficiently allocate limited mapping resources, CRCP identified the need for current priority locations based on emerging management requirements in coral reef areas up to 40 meters deep along the coasts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

The hexagonal grid (1 km per side with total area of 1 mi2 or 2.6 km2) used for the Puerto Rico prioritization. The 40-m contour was used as the maximum depth for this prioritization effort.

To meet this need, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) developed a systematic, quantitative approach and online GIS application to gather seafloor mapping priorities from researchers and coral reef managers. Participants placed virtual coins onto a grid overlaid on the project area to express the location of their mapping priorities. They also used pull-down menus to indicate specific mapping data needs and the rationale for their selections. Participants’ inputs were compiled and analyzed to identify high priority areas along with their justifications and requirements.

Participants input their mapping priorities for Puerto Rico (n=18) and the USVI (n=20) jurisdictions using an online tool. For both jurisdictions, participating groups included a range of partners, such as fishery management councils, federal, state, territorial and municipal government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and academia. The most commonly selected "Management Use" options in Puerto Rico were Spatial Protection/Management and Monitoring. In USVI, Habitat Restoration and Spatial Protection/Management were the top choices. The top "Map Product Requirement" options revealed three main desired data types in both Puerto Rico and the USVI: Substrate Types, Identification of Coral Species, and Habitat Suitability. To further explore areas of high interest and need by participants, clusters of top ranking cells (based on total number of coins, number of participating groups, and number of unique Management Uses), or focal areas, were identified for each region. In Puerto Rico, four focal areas were identified: 1) Arecibo, 2) Ensenada and Guánica, 3) Humacao, and 4) northwest Sonda de Vieques. In the USVI, three focal areas were identified: 1) shelf off northwest of Saint Thomas (Cockroach Island and Dutchcap Pass), 2) northwest St. Croix, and 3) east St. Croix. These focal areas were of interest to participants for various reasons, such as filling data gaps to support coral restoration efforts, and update existing data to help manage watersheds along a rapidly developing coastline. Overlapping participant interests highlight some of the best opportunities for collaboration, with the potential to satisfy a variety of coral management goals.

This report and interactive online maps provide a critical spatial framework for prioritizing mapping efforts in shallow coral reef ecosystems of Puerto Rico and the USVI. Results from the prioritization needs assessment are summarized and shared in this report. Summary results and an inventory of existing mapping data for Puerto Rico, USVI, and other completed jurisdictions are available at: https://us-shallow-coral-reef-mapping-priorities-noaa.hub.arcgis.com/.

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