Technology: NOAA’s MPA Center Describes How New Spatial Analysis Tool Can Assist Ocean Managers with Conservation Planning

head shot of woman with long brown hair at the beach smiling

Mimi Diorio

Guest Blogger Biography: Dr. Mimi D’Iorio is the GIS Database Manager for NOAA’s Marine Protected Areas Center in Monterey, CA. At the MPA Center, Mimi is responsible for a variety of geospatial efforts; maintaining, updating and distributing the MPA Inventory; designing, planning and implementing participatory ocean use mapping projects; managing the design and development of online mapping tools for visualizing MPAs and ocean uses data; and collaborating with NOAA partners on the development of GIS applications for assessing spatial resources inside and outside MPAs.


  • Where are environmental resources I care about?
  • Are they protected to an adequate degree?
  • Can I generate statistics that support these questions?
two seals laying near patch of green sea grass

SPARC can be used to analyze the representativeness of resources protected by MPAs, like pinnipeds and other marine mammals. Credit: NOAA/NOS.

These challenges and many others are faced by ocean managers using geographic information systems (GIS) to manage, map and analyze the resources under their jurisdiction. Spatial analyses using GIS, while powerful, can be complicated and time consuming to reveal meaningful results that support management decisions.

To streamline the spatial analysis process, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s (NCCOS) Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment‘s Biogeography Branch and the National Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Center have created a new tool to help analyze the distribution of marine resources among spatial zones such as MPAs and MPA networks. The SPatial Analysis and Resource Characterization (SPARC) tool is an ArcGIS 10 add-in that provides a user-friendly graphical interface to generate statistics such as the coverage (percentage) of resources present inside a target area (e.g. MPAs, planning areas, or zones), and the coverage (percentage) of resources present relative to the overall resource extent and to organize data layers in a structured format. This one-of-a-kind tool can also be applied to inform other management decisions like assessing habitat types within proposed sites for offshore marine energy development and evaluating the potential ecosystem impacts of natural disasters.

SPARC also provides the capability to select the analytical area(s) of interest (AOI) based on a designated attribute or data field in the input AOI layer or to join tabular information and a spatial datasets based on a unique identifier.  This feature prevents the need to create multiple subsets of input data, allowing the user to select multiple areas that share a common attribute (e.g., federally managed MPAs or no-take MPAs) as part of the workflow, thereby avoiding data versioning and allowing for iterative analyses based on different attributes.

SPARC in Action: Looking at Kelp Cover in California

map of california coast, with shading to indicate boundaries of Marine Protected areas

MPA Center used the SPARC tool to assess California Kelp Beds. Credit: NOAA/NCCOS/Biogeography

Currently, the MPA Center is using SPARC to analyze the representativeness of resources protected by MPAs in the coastal and marine waters off the state of California.  To better understand how well California MPAs represent the breadth of the state’s marine ecosystem features, resources and services, SPARC was run on a series of statewide ecological resource datasets.  The example shows the results of analyses using a dataset for kelp cover, where SPARC has calculated the relative amount of kelp cover contained within all MPAs, and within each MPA individually.  SPARC has also been used to conduct an analysis of only no-take MPAs, and other analyses based on MPA attributes such as level of government. These analyses allow managers and planners to better understand where key resources like kelp are being protected, and where stronger protection may be needed.  This information can inform present and future management decision making.

For more information
To learn more about SPARC applications for MPA science and analysis, visit the National MPA Center.

Please visit the NCCOS website to download the SPARC tool and contact Ken Buja if you need technical assistance.

This blog is one in a variety of technology posts designed to provide readers with insight into the  technologies that are being developed and used for research by NCCOS scientist and their partners.  

This entry was posted in Biogeography Branch, Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, General, MPA Areas of Interest, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAA Marine Protected Areas, NOAA MPA Center, NOAA's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Ocean Field Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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