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NOAA, BOEM Develop New Tool to Reduce Dredging Impacts to Essential Fish Habitat

Published on: 04/30/2020

As part of a recently completed two-year study funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management (OCM), and Quantum Spatial, Inc. developed a decision-support tool called ShoalMATE to guide wise use and dredging of offshore sand shoals.

To enhance coastal resilience, scientists and resource managers are employing coastal engineering strategies like beach renourishment, barrier island restoration, and wetland restoration to protect communities from storms, erosion, and sea level rise. These types of projects have led to an increase in the demand for offshore marine sands. Dredging of sand shoals is the most efficient method to obtain marine sands, however little is known about sand shoal habitat value to commercially and ecologically important fish populations.

The five preset maps developed to meet the requirements of the EFH Assessment: overview, bathymetry, substrate, accretion, and dredge exposure.

ShoalMATE provides BOEM with a consistent, science-based framework to streamline Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) consultations with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, to identify, address, and minimize impacts to fish and their habitats. The tool generates a written report which allows for review and assessment of impacts of proposed offshore dredging on EFH in project areas anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico and US Atlantic continental shelf.

Data mapped in ShoalMATE includes predicted locations of shoal features in the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts based on physical characteristics, as well as modeled fish species distributions based on habitat characteristics, already designated EFH, past dredging activities, and a range of environmental factors. ShoalMATE allows BOEM to overlay these data in customizable maps and analyze relative value of habitats in the project area into a concise assessment report.

Using these new data and interactive mapping tools allows BOEM to better understand impacts from dredging, while also enabling EFH managers to make informed, science-based decisions on mitigation and conservation recommendations.

To learn more, visit the NCCOS project webpage, BOEM ESPIS webpage, or download the project one-pager.

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