Coral Reef Conservation Milestone: Report Highlights 12 Years of NOAA U.S. Coral Reef Ecosystem Mapping Progress

By Alicia Clarke
Science writer and editor, Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment,
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Since 2000, the National Ocean Service and partners have mapped and identified nearly three million acres – equivalent to 1.2 million football fields – of U.S. shallow water (approximately 0- to 90-feet deep) coral reef habitats in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Mapping is an essential first step in conserving coral reef ecosystems because they help to prioritize areas for further study and protection, as well as offer key information needed to evaluate changes in ecosystems over time.

National Summary of NOAA's Shallow-water Benthic Habitat Mapping

A new report highlights the more than a decade of U.S. shallow-water coral reef ecosystem mapping work led by NCCOS, the Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Photo credit: NCCOS

The results of this body of work are summarized in a new report released by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), “National Summary of NOAA’s Shallow-water Benthic Habitat Mapping of U.S. Coral Reef Ecosystems.” This effort was led by a partnership between NCCOS, Coral Reef Conservation Program, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the Coastal Services Center.

The scope of the report encompasses 10 areas of highly productive and diverse coral reef regions. Detailed information for each region has been previously published in reports on each island and/or jurisdiction. This document serves as a comprehensive summary of the previous studies and provides key information in a single report.


Since 2000, NOS and partners has mapped shallow-water coral reef ecosystems in U.S. states and territories around the globe. The maps are an essential first step in conserving these unique marine resources. Photo credit: NCCOS

The sea floor habitat maps have greatly enhanced efforts to preserve and manage coral reef ecosystems around the nation. Managers, scientists and decision makers have already relied upon theses tools for accomplishing critical tasks, such as evaluating the benefits of marine protected areas and developing plans to minimize impacts from growing human communities that depend on the ecological services provided by coral reefs (e.g., food).

With the publication of the national summary report, NOAA aims to further facilitate application of coral ecosystem mapping data in order to preserve, sustain and restore valuable coral reef ecosystems for future generations.

To learn more about this and other NCCOS sea floor mapping efforts or to download a copy of the report, visit our Coral Reef and Seagrass Ecosystems page. To request a hard copy of the document, e-mail

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