Priority Ocean Areas for Protection in the Mid-Atlantic
Findings of NRDC's Marine Habitat Workshop
Summary of Findings
Seven major criteria were used in identifying priority ocean areas for protection.
- Biodiversity: the presence of a wide variety of animal and plant species, often in interdependent living arrangements.
- High abundance: a heavy concentration of fauna and/or flora.
- Migratory pathway: corridors used by marine fauna, generally based on seasonal travels for the purposes of feeding, spawning, or other functions.
- Physical features: topographical features (such as canyons) or oceanographic occurrences (such as upwelling or temperature gradients) associated with productivity or diversity.
- Nursery or spawning areas: locations where important reproductive functions for particular species are known to take place, including birthing, egg laying, fertiliza-tion, and hatching.
- Endangered or threatened species: identification of a primary habitat or migratory pathway for a species already known to be endangered or threatened.
- Fisheries: the combination of fish and commercial or recreational fishing activity.
Variations on these criteria and additions to them are noted in the text supporting each individual scientistís recommendations.
PRIORITY AREAS FOR PROTECTION
NRDC used GIS software to map polygons reflecting each scientistís recommended priority ocean areas for protection. Taken together, the participantsí recommendations cover 54.7 percent of the study area delineated at the workshop. The polygon overlay showed the areas of greatest convergence -- where several participants recommended the same or overlapping areas, often for different reasons. Doing so revealed extensive overlap of scientistsí selections of high-priority areas, accounting for 19.4 percent of the total study area.
Five areas stood out as receiving the most recommendations.
- Submarine canyons (south to north): Norfolk, Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, Hudson, Veatch, Hydrographer, Oceanographer, and Lydonia.
- Offshore waters near Cape Hatteras, extending to the 2,000-meter isobath.
- Tilefish habitat between Cape May and Cape Cod, between the 80- and 400-meter isobaths.
- A 35-kilometer corridor (extending from shore) of nearshore waters, encompassing many subareas of importance.
- The continental shelf/slope break area, from the 100-meter to the 400-meter isobath.
Each of these "overlap" areas is described and discussed in Part Two of this report.
It is extremely important to note that the priority ocean areas identified in this report are not limited to the areas of overlapping recommendations. All the priority areas identified by the scientists, whether by one or by many, are important. For example, one scientist noted the significance of the ocean quahog and surf clam fisheries to this region, while another pinpointed an area along the Hague line that is biologically distinct from the rest of the mid-Atlantic. The fact that only one scientist recommended an area may simply reflect the fact that he or she is the only one with expertise regarding a particular species, population, etc. A map with each scientistís recommendations is included in Part Three.
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