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Habitat Suitability Modeling for Deep-Sea Corals in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Project Goal

To generate high-resolution predictive maps of potential deep-sea coral habitat in the Northern Gulf of Mexico for use in management, conservation, and future survey planning.

Geographic Location

Northern Gulf of Mexico


High-resolution data from better-studied areas (e.g., Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management [BOEM] surveys, and U.S. Geological Service surveys) and region-wide lower-resolution information on bathymetry, oceanography and 3D seismic reflectance is being used to refine a global habitat model. Interpreted 3D seismic reflectance maps of potential hard bottom provided by BOEM are facilitating an unprecedented level of detail in model predictions (Figure 1).


Development of this model at a time when sizable new resources are being invested in deepwater exploration of the Gulf of Mexico will help target these multimillion dollar investments, which in turn will provide opportunities for further ground truthing and refinement of the model. For example, in conjunction with Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program research and mapping on the West Coast, this project will enable timely ground truthing of model predictions and feedback into refinement of the models.

Importance to Management

Predicted distributions are being used to guide future mapping and research efforts and are expected to support a variety of management and conservation purposes. For example, the results are expected to contribute to the review of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councilís essential fish habitat (EFH) five year review and National Marine Sanctuaries interest in potential new sanctuary sites. The information may also be valuable in identifying coral-rich areas for compensatory mitigation of impacts in the Gulf of Mexico, including impacts that may be identified from the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment.


Project webpage: http://ccma.nos.noaa.gov/about/biogeography/proj_theme.aspx
BOEM Potential Hard Bottom Geodatabase: http://www.boemre.gov/offshore/mapping/SeismicWaterBottomAnomalies.htm

Fiscal Year 2011 Funding


Point of Contact

Brian Kinlan, Brian.Kinlan@noaa.gov