Prioritizing Areas for Future Seafloor Mapping and Exploration in the U.S. Caribbean
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Prioritizing Areas for Future Seafloor Mapping and Exploration in the U.S. Caribbean
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Prioritizing Areas for Future Seafloor Mapping and Exploration in the U.S. Caribbean
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    Spatial information about the seafloor is critical for decision-making by marine research and management organizations. These organizations are tasked with ensuring safe navigation, sustainable fisheries, smart renewable energy, and sound ecological stewardship in U.S. coastal and marine waters. Coordination among these research and management organizations can help them efficiently leverage resources to map and explore unknown seafloor areas in support of their individual objectives, mandates, and missions. Effective coordination requires that these organizations understand where and when their priorities overlap with others operating in the same regions. This project works with local participants to identify priority areas for future mapping, sampling, and visual surveys. To build the framework for the online prioritization application, the U.S. Caribbean territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) were divided into offshore and nearshore sub regions. Offshore regions were further divided into 10 x 10 km grid cells, and nearshore regions divided into 2.5 x 2.5 km grid cells. In addition to this spatial grid, existing relevant spatial datasets (e.g., bathymetry, remotely operated vehicle, dive locations, etc.) were compiled to help participants understand information and data gaps and to identify areas to prioritize for future data collections. An online application was developed using Esri’s Web AppBuilder to display the spatial grids and datasets. Fifteen participants from federal, territory, and academic organizations entered their priorities in this online application by placing virtual coins in grid cells. Grid cells with more coins were higher priority than cells with fewer coins. Participants also reported why these locations were important and what data types were needed. Results were pooled, analyzed, and mapped to identify relationships between priorities, rationale, and data needs. A total of 15 respondents provided their mapping priorities. This input resulted in fifteen high priority locations that were broadly identified for future mapping and visual surveys. These priority locations were broadly distributed throughout the project area, except for southwest Puerto Rico. These locations include: a coastal and offshore location in northwest Puerto Rico (Punta Jacinto to Punta Agujereada), coastal Rincon, San Juan, Punta Arenas (west of Vieques Island), southwest Vieques, Grappler Seamount, southern Virgin Passage, north St. Thomas, east St. Thomas, south St. John, and the entire coast of St. Croix. Participants consistently selected (1) Biota/Important Natural Area, (2) Commercial Fishing and (3) Research as their top reasons (i.e., justifications) for prioritizing locations. Participants also consistently selected (1) Benthic Habitat Map and (2) Photos/Videos as their top data needs.In addition to this analysis, recommendations on future mapping missions are given based on participant feedback in areas of high priority. These recommendations will help support collaborative efforts across all federal, territory, and academic institutions in the U.S. Caribbean. The resulting map layers developed for this project have been published to NOAA’s U.S. Mapping Coordination website. This website allows users to upload their latest data collections and collectively track their overall progress towards mapping key priority areas identified in this effort. Data was also uploaded to NOAA’s Zenodo archive and published as an ArcGIS map service, which can be viewed using an application on ArcGIS online (NOAA NCCOS, 2019). Together these tools and information will enable stakeholders to efficiently leverage resources and coordinate the mapping of high priority locations across the U.S. Caribbean.
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