What Is Marine Habitat Mapping and Why Do Managers Need It?

What Is Marine Habitat Mapping and Why Do Managers Need It?

Jon Kurland and Doug Woodby

What Is Marine Habitat Mapping and Why Do Managers Need It?This is part of Marine Habitat Mapping Technology for Alaska
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The waters off Alaska's coast support abundant and nationally significant populations of fish and marine mammals, yet resource managers lack basic information about the marine habitats that sustain this bounty. Fishermen and geologists can tell us broadly about the types of seafloor found in various areas, but such information tends to be patchy at best and the seafloor can vary dramatically over a small area. To make informed decisions about human activities that affect the oceans, managers need fairly high resolution maps of the physical and biological features that constitute habitat for fish, crabs, whales, sea lions, and other marine life. Habitat maps are important not only for fishery managers, but also for decision makers regarding oil and gas development, marine mining, and other activities that can affect habitats for marine life. Marine habitat mapping can be defined as the collection and synthesis of physical and biological data necessary to differentiate environmental features that are meaningful to marine organisms—the features that make a particular area suitable or preferable for basic life functions such as feeding, reproduction, and avoiding predators. Habitat maps coupled with biological surveys help scientists learn which environments contribute most to the growth, reproduction, and survival of marine species. Managers can use such habitat maps to design protective measures for necessary habitats with greater certainty about societal benefits. In short, habitat mapping is a key element for improving the sustainable management of Alaska’s living marine resources. This paper highlights several examples of marine habitat mapping and their value to management decisions.

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