Ocean Discoveries: Marine Ecological Gap Analysis for the National Park Service

By Dan Dorfman, Marine Conservation Planner
Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment,
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Photo of Dan Dorfman wearing a hat and holding a koala.

Mr. Dan Dorfman

NCCOS/CCMA Blogger Biography: Dan Dorfman is a Marine Conservation Planner with the NCCOS’ Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, Biogeography Branch.  His work focuses on coral reef ecosystem conservation, including both deep sea and shallow water corals.  Prior to joining NOAA, he was with the The Nature Conservancy (TNC), serving initially as its Western Regional GIS Manager for the Conservation Science Division and as the GIS Coordinator for the Hawaii Chapter, and later as TNC’s Senior Marine Conservation Planner for the Global Marine Initiative. He holds a Master’s degree from Boston University and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California at San Diego.

National Park Services Approaches CCMA to Identify Coral Resources Across the US Virgin Islands
Over the past three years, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment has been assisting the National Park Service’s (NPS) Ocean and Coastal Resources Branch by conducting an ecological gap analysis for eight national parks across the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and the Pacific, which have marine designations including coral reef ecosystems.  The project consisted of collecting available geospatial information for each park and to provide mapping products that would assist natural resource management efforts within the study area. The project also included the identification of information gaps which should be addressed to support effective management of marine and coastal resources managed under each park’s jurisdiction.

Study Area
NPS manages and protects more than 250,000 acres of coral reef in eight National Parks including USVI – Virgin Islands National Park (VIIS), Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument (VICR), Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve (SARI) and Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS); Guam – War-in-the Pacific National Historical Park (WAPA); American Samoa – National Park of American Samoa (NPSA); and Main Hawaiian Islands – Kalaupapa National Historical Park (KALA) and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (KAHO). While these are not the only parks with marine designations and coral reef ecosystems, this project focused on the above parks.

Identifying Gaps and Goals
One of the crucial foundations of this effort was meeting with staff at each of the individual national parks to collect information which could support the management of coral reef ecosystems and the identification of information gaps.  We also met with Park Service partners who had information relevant to the study area and the overall project itself. These partners included local (state and territorial) natural resource management agencies, federal agencies such as the USGS and Department of Defense, and non-profit organizations such as the Nature Conservancy. NCCOS has previously worked with each of these parks and their partners in establishing benthic habitat maps for the marine portion of each park.

Buck Island Reef National Monument is one of the parks included in this project. NCCOS has been working with park managers to map benthic habitats and track coral reef and reef fish populations over the past decade.  To learn more about that study, check out Bryan Costa’s blog.

Data Analysis and Data Portal Development
The marine ecological gap analysis relied extensively on the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to collect and integrate information on the status and distribution of species and ecosystems within each park.

The first step was to meet with the Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Branch to determine what information was already in the Park Service’s hands.  This was followed by meetings with staff from individual parks and then meeting with partners to collect additional data where it was available. After gathering available spatial information we conducted a gap analysis to determine which parks were missing important information resources, such as water quality measurements and surveys of reef fish.  These gaps were prioritized for future information collection efforts.

For each park we created an integrated information resource in the form of an ArcGIS geodatabase.  Each database contains information about park boundary designations, coastal zone management areas, bathymetry, remotely sensed imagery, water quality, socioeconomic uses, biological monitoring activities, shoreline characterization, ecosystem monitoring, hydrology, benthic habitat mapping, and more.  These information resources will enable park managers to view future decisions within an ecological, biological and physical context.

Data Portal Provides Managers Access to Critical Information for Management Decision making
The project also developed a geospatial web portal  which enables Park Service staff, researchers and the public to view all of the available information related to marine resources and their management.  This will allow scientists to make better use of existing information in study designs and allows for priority setting in future information collection and management decision making.

Screen shot of computer screen showing web application, blue background and pixelated islands.

The data portal which was designed to support discovery and distribution of the geographic information collected to support the Marine Ecological Gap Analysis project. Credit: NOAA/NCCOS/CCMA/Biogeography Branch.

Project Outcomes Assist NPS Decision making
This project will assist local park managers in making decisions regarding marine and coastal resource management.  It will also assist the Park Service more generally, by enabling summaries and comparisons across park units. Additionally, this project will assist the Park Service in managing spatial information for the marine environment and will support researchers who conduct work within park boundaries by making information broadly available for their use.  This additional application should result in more effective research conducted by Park Service partners and in turn result in additional utility for park managers.

One of the most exciting parts of the project was getting the chance to visit so many of the National Parks in exotic locations such as American Samoa and Hawaii.  It was great to learn how each of these parks is working to protect marine environments.

You can see other articles that have a tourism aspect by reading the blog.

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One Response to Ocean Discoveries: Marine Ecological Gap Analysis for the National Park Service

  1. Thanks for finally writing about >Ocean Discoveries: Marine Ecological Gap Analysis for the National
    Park Service | NOAA Ocean Science Blog <Loved it!

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