Ecospatial Information

Goal: To create comprehensive maps of all U.S. coral reef habitats

NOAA Research Vessel Acoustic Habitat Investigator (AHI).
NOAA Research Vessel Acoustic Habitat Investigator (AHI).

One of the ways that the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) addresses the priorities laid out in both the National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs (2000, 0.3 MB PDF) and the National Coral Reef Action Strategy (2002) is by funding coral reef benthic habitat mapping and characterization throughout U.S. waters.

Benthic Habitat Mapping

Products of benthic habitat mapping and characterization are fundamental components of ecosystem-based coral reef management because they integrate a variety of information about ecosystems to define their

  • extent,
  • nature,
  • and health.

Without accurate maps, resource managers cannot make informed decisions. Although products produced by CRED are publicly available, resource managers are the primary users of our data. NOAA's Biogeography Branch leads the effort to comprehensively map the distribution of shallow (depths ≤ 150 m) coral reefs and other benthic habitats. To learn about deep coral reefs click here.

Pacific Islands Region

In the Pacific Islands Region, comprehensive mapping and characterization of coral reef habitats have been accomplished primarily through the development of maps based on IKONOS satellite imagery. When the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center established the Coral Reef Ecosystems Division (CRED) in 2001, it initiated a program to extend habitat mapping in the U.S. Pacific Islands into deep water (depths >30m) that cannot be readily mapped using satellite and aerial techniques.

The Beginning

2001

Crew aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette reviewing collected multibeam data.
Crew aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette reviewing collected multibeam data.
Still images taken by the underwater Towed Optical Assessment Device (TOAD) in American Samoa in 2002.
Still images taken by the underwater Towed Optical Assessment Device (TOAD) in American Samoa in 2002.

CRED began systematic mapping in 2001 through the use of a single-beam bottom-classification system and a towed optical assessment device (TOAD). These technologies have been used on numerous cruises aboard the NOAA Ships Townsend Cromwell, Oscar Elton Sette and Hiʻialakai Plans were initiated in 2001 to develop a mapping capability based on high-resolution multibeam sonar that would be used from 20 m into waters as deep as 250 m.

2002-2004

The result was the NOAA R/V Acoustic Habitat Investigator (AHI), a 25-ft survey launch, which was commissioned in 2003 and equipped with a RESON 8101ER multibeam sonar.

During the R/V AHI's first year of operation, more than 750 km2 of seafloor in at depths of 10-350m were mapped in the following regions:

In 2002, our scientists participated in a mapping cruise in the NWHI aboard the University of Hawaii's R/V Kilo Moana during which more than 38,000 km2 of multibeam data was collected at depths of 20-5000 m. In 2004, the first design of a single TOAD was replaced with two more capable (parallel lasers for fish scaling, a compass to determine the sled heading and orientation, and a depth (pressure) sensor for better control) underwater camera systems. Click here for more details about our tools and methods.

Today

Because CRED's mapping operations are dependent largely on the availability of NOAA ships, a variety of operational scenarios have been developed to maximize the amount of mapping that can be accomplished. To learn about current and ongoing mapping operations in the Pacific Islands, please visit the Pacific Islands Benthic Habitat Mapping Center (PIBHMC) website or the mapping methods webpage.

Partners in Mapping

Hawaii Mapping Research Group (HMRG) logo

We work closely with a variety of partners both inside NOAA and with other federal, state, and local agencies in the Pacific Islands Region. The strongest partnership is with the Hawaii Mapping Research Group (HMRG) of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's School of Oceanography and Earth Science and Technology. HMRG has more than 20 years of experience conducting sonar field operations and generating seafloor imagery products. Rather than duplicate these efforts, CRED worked with HMRG to expand upon their capabilities with techniques for development of habitat maps. Data collected and processed jointly by CRED and HMRG can be accessed via the Pacific Islands Benthic Habitat Mapping Center website.