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NCCOS Research Project

Predictive Benthic Habitat Suitability Modeling of Deep-Sea Biota on the U.S. Pacific Outer Continental Shelf

Region(s) of Study: Waterbodies / Pacific Ocean
This project began in September 2016 and will be completed in September 2019

The Pacific Outer Continental Shelf includes 250 million acres off California, Oregon, and Washington, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) oversees the responsible development of energy and mineral resources for this area. We are developing information on the distribution of deep-sea corals/sponges and benthic macrofauna, which is critical for making sound decisions in managing renewable energy activities and developing mitigation measures to avoid or minimize impacts on marine resources.

Why We Care

deep water coral off Farnsworth Bank, California

Stylaster californicus, a hydrocoral, with associated fish species at 41 m depth on Farnsworth Bank off California. Credit: NOAA SWFSC, Advanced Survey Technologies Group.

Deep-sea corals are generally long-lived, slow-growing organisms that produce significant biological structure above the seafloor, providing habitat for fish and invertebrates. The distribution of deep-sea coral is poorly understood because of the logistical difficulty and expense of surveying the deep ocean. Benthic macrofauna (e.g., gastropods, bivalves, polychaete worms) live within the substrate on the seafloor and are also likely to be affected by the installation of renewable energy devices. Sampling for benthic macrofauna has varied spatially and temporally along the coast. Predictive modeling of deep-sea coral and benthic macrofauna can predict habitat suitability in data poor areas, inform conservation planning, and be used to target areas for future mapping and exploration. Modeling can also lead to insights into the environmental factors driving the distribution of biota.

The federal waters off the U.S. West Coast are currently being considered for renewable energy development. In order to plan effectively for renewable energy development, an understanding of the distribution of benthic habitats and associated biota is necessary to assess potential direct and indirect effects of development on marine ecosystems.

What We Are Doing

We are partnering with BOEM, Oregon State University (OSU), NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC), and NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) to:

  1. collect and compile survey data for benthic macrofauna and deep-sea corals/sponges in the U.S. Pacific Outer Continental Shelf (OCS);
  2. identify physical and environmental characteristics correlated to distributions of benthic macrofauna and deep-sea corals, and
  3. predict and map spatial patterns of habitat suitability for benthic macrofauna and deep-sea corals in the Pacific OCS.

Final products will include:

  • a data synthesis of available survey data for benthic macrofauna and deep-sea corals/sponges in the Pacific OCS
  • a data synthesis of environmental variables used in the models
  • maps of the predicted habitat suitability of benthic macrofauna and deep-sea corals
  • a technical memorandum

Benefits of Our Work

Information on the distribution of benthic macrofauna and deep-sea corals will be used to make environmentally sound decisions about managing renewable energy activities and developing mitigation measures to avoid or minimize impacts on the marine environment and organisms.

 

 

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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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