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Assessment of Offshore Seafloor and Biological Surveys to Support Marine Spatial Planning off Washington State

Project Status: This project began in April 2013 and was completed in June 2013

We worked with regional experts to identify and evaluate seafloor, seabird, deep sea coral, and sponge data needed to support marine spatial planning in Washington state. We also developed an online data viewer and outlined a process to prioritize future seafloor mapping collection efforts. Our work highlights important data sets, ongoing research, data gaps, and strategies to effectively use existing data for marine planning.

Why We Care
The ocean region off the coast of Washington state is vital to our nation’s fisheries, commerce, security, and culture. To plan for new ocean activities in this region (such as harnessing wave energy to make electricity) and to reduce conflicts among existing uses (such as groundfishing and essential fish habitat protection), the state of Washington is undertaking marine spatial planning—a process that coordinates decisions about how marine resources and space are used. Our work will help coastal resource managers find and use the best available data to evaluate and balance the needs of a growing list of often competing ocean uses, while protecting natural and cultural resources. By effectively planning ocean uses, coastal managers will reduce conflicts among users, encourage offshore investments, facilitate compatible uses, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives.

Our assessments of seafloor, seabird, and benthic invertebrates along the coast of Washington state were requested by the Washington state Departments of Natural Resources and Ecology, with input from the State Ocean Caucus, because they are expected to be important factors in marine spatial planning.

What We Did
Our assessments were planned to be short and strategic, to outline key data and to identify actions needed to improve the effectiveness of future marine planning.

The assessment of seafloor data entailed preparing a blueprint to prioritize seafloor mapping. The blueprint includes:

  1. Compiling seafloor data;
  2. Planning a regional workshop to bring stakeholders together and to identify the range of benthic mapping needs and important places;
  3. Developing a transparent process to analyze priorities; and
  4. Determining where and how mapping data could be gathered, given the range of needs and available resources

Additionally, we constructed an online geospatial data viewer of existing seafloor mapping information to allow planners to visualize data by thematic categories and allow users to easily evaluate the extent, type, and quality of existing data sources.

The assessment of seabirds, and deep sea corals and sponges data started with identifying and compiling existing data and developing maps that show where data were collected. We then identified data gaps and evaluated how the data could support marine planning, drawing from our experience with similar assessments in Long Island Sound, the Mid-Atlantic Bight, and the Central California National Marine Sanctuaries.

We worked with individuals from many different agencies, institutions, and organizations to identify data sets and gather ideas on how to present information, including NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, National Geophysical Data Center, Northwest and Southwest Fisheries Science Centers, and Commissioned Officer Corps; USGS’s Alaska Science Center and Western Ecological Research Center; DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; the state of Washington’s Department of Ecology and Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex; Oregon State University; and the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research.

This work supports NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM), which plays a key role in administering and coordinating a range of federal–state coastal programs, and provides technical and financial help and training to states working to manage coastal areas.

What We Found

  1. There are many unique surveys providing information on seafloor mapping, seabirds, and deep sea benthic invertebrates in the study area. Stitching these data together can provide a rich compilation of information to support effective marine planning.
  2. There are many researchers and coastal managers working in the study area who have valuable data sets, are interested in marine planning, and are willing to work together.
  3. Seafloor mapping can be improved by better coordination, well-defined objectives, and preparing a comprehensive plan for filling regional data gaps.
  4. There are existing seabird and deep sea coral and sponge maps that can be useful to marine planning, but it is important to understand their limitations given the data gaps we identified in our report (linked below).
  5. Continued offshore surveys are needed to fill data gaps and understand changes in species distribution over time.
  6. Deep sea coral and sponge data are available in the NOAA Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program database. 

Next Steps
We are prepared to continue providing support to coastal zone managers on next steps, such as defining specific mapping objectives, conducting targeted analyses to meet planning requirements, and preparing maps and reference material in a transparent manner that is accessible and credible.

There are many other important ecological and human use data sets (e.g., marine mammals, groundfishes, transportation corridors) we were unable to assess due to the time constraints of this project, but these should be considered in future assessments and marine spatial planning efforts.

Related Regions of Study: Pacific Ocean - Eastern, Washington

Primary Contacts: Charles Menza, Tim Battista, John Christensen

Research Area: Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Ecological Forecasts and Tools, Seafloor Mapping, Biogeographic Assessment, Marine Spatial Planning, Seagrasses, Coral)

Related NCCOS Center: CCMA

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