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Coral Reef Mapping: Benthic Habitat Maps

Principal Investigator: Bernhard Riegl, Ph.D.
Ph.D. Graduate Student: Brian K. Walker


Composite of results from the Broward County mapping effort Coral reef habitat mapping is essential for all successful marine management plans and is used as the basis for many management decisions. Information gained from coral reef mapping includes identifying essential fish habitat and other ecologically sensitive areas for protection, calculating volumetric or area measurements of anthropogenic impacts, identifying reef gaps for submarine cable placement, and locating areas for artificial reef enhancement.

Project and Findings

3d view of Port Everglades with aerial photograph of effluent overlainVarious remote sensing data were compiled to map the benthic habitat of Broward County, FL. Laser bathymetry, aerial photography, and acoustic ground discrimination aided in discerning the benthic habitat features. NOAA-NOS National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Biogeography Program standard mapping criteria were used, including a 1-acre minimum mapping unit and a similar habitat classification scheme. 112 km² of nearshore seafloor was mapped, which included approx. 57 km² of coral reef and colonized hardbottom separated into three reef tracts and a nearshore ridge complex.

Accuracy assessment gave high level of accuracies, similar to NOAA mapping efforts. Future research will focus on extending the mapping into southern Palm Beach County. The habitat data will be used in concert with the bathymetry to develop a prediction model for fish assemblages. Brian Walker leads most of the mapping efforts and also maintains the GIS of mapping products.

Implications for Management

Bathymetric map illustrating a series of recent ship grounding events in Broward County associated with two nearby anchorages for Port EvergladesThese maps will be included in the South Florida Electronic Area Contingency Plan that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) is developing jointly with the U.S. Coast Guard, to help support oil spill response and planning. They will support state and county permitting activities related to sand mining and the minimization of impacts by submarine construction and excavation, such as pipeline routings, etc., and they will be included in large format to be shown on a future Broward County Boating and Angling Guide, which is planned to include extensive information about marine resources and their protection and conservation. Benthic data will be added to the SEAMAP Bottom Mapping Project, which consists of various GIS produced by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the States of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, with the aim of identifying essential fish habitat.

  • Broward County Department of Environmental Protection
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • World Wildlife Fund
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