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NCCOS Research Project

Marine Biogeographic Assessment of the Main Hawaiian Islands

This project began in July 2013 and was completed in September 2016

We compiled existing spatial data and created maps of the marine environment, benthic habitats, fishes, sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds off the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). This work supports the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) review of lease requests for renewable energy projects in federal waters, to minimize potential impacts to the ecosystem. This assessment is part of a larger process by BOEM and State of Hawai‘i to evaluate renewable energy proposals offshore of MHI.

Why We Care
The state of Hawai‘i is working to develop local renewable energy sources to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels (click here for more information). Most of the State’s potential renewable energy resources (notably, wind) are located in federal waters from 3 to 200 nm offshore. BOEM regulates the leasing, construction and operation of most renewable energy projects in federal waters, and is required to evaluate potential human, coastal and marine impacts from these projects. BOEM partnered with the NCCOS to gather biogeographic information in support of this evaluation. Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date spatial information is critical for assessing these proposals and for minimizing impacts on the surrounding ecosystems. This information also informs other coastal and ocean planning activities by the state of Hawai’i and other partners in the southern Hawaiian Archipelago.

What We Did
We compiled existing, readily-available datasets and created maps describing the physical environment, benthic communities, fishes, turtles, whales, dolphins, seals, and seabirds around the MHI. Species or groups that were: (1) more likely to interact with renewable energy infrastructure (e.g., wind turbines); (2) were culturally significant; (3) had state or federal protected status; and/or (4) were economically valuable were given special consideration. No new information was collected in situ during this assessment. Input data came from a variety of federal, state, academic and non-governmental partners. Analyses were specifically designed for compatibility with BOEM’s regulatory framework of aliquots and lease blocks, and depended on the completeness and limitations associated with the existing datasets.

Products from our work include:
• a report describing marine biogeographic patterns around the MHI
• spatial data layers and metadata used in these analyses
• an interactive web map showing key datasets from the project
• several web mapping services that can be ingested by other online data portals

This work was funded by BOEM’s Pacific Outer Continental Shelf Region. BOEM has also funded several other projects in the MHI (click here for more information). For updates on BOEM’s activities in the MHI, please click here. Collaborations with a variety of local federal, state, academic and non-governmental organizations were crucial for this work. Four of the major partners and data providers included: NOAA’s Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, and the State of Hawai‘i. Many of these partners were crucial for identifying information relevant to the project’s scope, for connecting NCCOS with local experts, and for providing technical expertise and review.  This assessment synthesizes their research over many years, and leverages millions of dollars invested by the management and research community in the MHI.

What We Found
The biogeography of the MHI is shaped by atmospheric and oceanographic conditions that operate at different temporal and spatial scales around the islands. Marine animals respond to these changing conditions in different ways. Some taxonomic groups and species use the same locations year round (e.g., on Penguin Bank or offshore of the Kona Coast, Hawai’i), while most taxa utilize different geographic areas at different times of the year. Understanding these spatial and temporal patterns is critical for marine spatial planning efforts, including offshore renewable energy development.

Benefits of Our Work
This assessment establishes a baseline for assessing potential impacts, a guide for monitoring change, a roadmap for prioritizing how to fill data gaps, and a framework for integrating ocean research and management efforts moving forward.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources, in direct support of NOS priorities, offices, and customers, and to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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