Spatial distributions of deep-sea corals and hardbottom habitats in the Southeast Atlantic
With Matt Poti and Arliss Winship, NOAA National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science.
This study developed maps of the predicted spatial distributions of deep-sea corals and hardbottom habitats in the U.S. Southeast Atlantic to inform and support environmental risk assessments, environmental impact statements, and other decision documents related to the review of proposed offshore energy development in the region. A database of presence-absence observations of deep-sea corals and hardbottom habitats was compiled using 20 datasets containing data from field surveys conducted using underwater vehicles. These observations were integrated with spatial environmental predictors depicting seafloor topography, substrate, oceanography, and geography in statistical models (occupancy models) to predict and map the estimated distributions of 24 deep-sea coral taxa and hardbottom habitats throughout the study area. The maps identify areas where these organisms are more likely and less likely to occur. In addition, a map of predicted taxonomic richness was produced to identify areas where the modeled deep-sea coral taxa are more likely to co-occur. Information from the maps of predicted probability of occurrence and predicted taxonomic richness can contribute to assessments of the potential impacts of offshore energy development and other activities on these sensitive benthic biota.