Ocean Conservancy releases maps of Gulf

When the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster occurred in 2010, researchers and others tried to determine where the oil might go and how it might affect the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline.

“People started realizing the last time a comprehensive map was done was in 1985,” said Alexis Baldera, conservation biologist with the Ocean Conservancy.

To help address the need for updated maps that look at physical and geographic features, animals, habitats, environmental issues and human uses in the Gulf of Mexico, the Ocean Conservancy started work on an atlas with maps that focused on specific interest areas across the northern Gulf.

The atlas, released Monday, includes maps and descriptions of 54 features of the Gulf in an effort that the Ocean Conservancy said it hopes will help in restoration and other planning efforts.

The atlas is similar to — and in some cases taken directly from — a digital atlas of the Gulf of Mexico created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rost Parsons, chief scientist with NOAA’s National Coastal Data Development Center, said the agency has worked closely with the Ocean Conservancy as well as other nonprofits and government agencies to develop its updated Gulf of Mexico atlas.

The agency’s effort to update the information was also brought about by the aftermath of hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon disaster, he said, when everyone was still using the base data developed in 1985.

The first of those updated maps was launched in 2011 and every month sees new information being added to the website, Parsons said.

A member of the committee developing the NOAA maps is also helping to develop the Ocean Conservancy maps, he said.

“The Ocean Conservancy has been working with us since day one,” Parsons said.

Baldera said the Ocean Conservancy atlas differs from the NOAA atlas because it pulls information from many different sources to create an aggregate atlas that is new.

For example, one map in the Ocean Conservancy atlas shows areas of the coast where brown pelicans are known to have nesting sites and provides an idea of the size of those nesting sites.

“This is the first time these nestings have been mapped like this,” Baldera said.

That information could be useful when trying to determine how and where to do habitat restoration work, she said.

“If you know birds were injured in Louisiana and want to restore nesting sites for brown pelicans, you could look at the map and see where those nesting sites are,” she said.

If a particular site couldn’t be restored for some reason, this same map would give an indication of where restoration work could still be done.

“It would help you take a pulse of the Gulf,” Baldera said.

ä ON THE INTERNET:

The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas: oceanconservancy.org/places/gulf-of-mexico/gulf-atlas.html
NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas: gulfatlas.noaa.gov/