You are here: Skip Navigation LinksHomeEcosystemsCoral ReefsBenthic Habitat Mapping of Florida Coral Reef Ecosystems

Benthic Habitat Mapping of Florida Coral Reef Ecosystems

Quick Link to Products


Consistently and comprehensively map the coral ecosystems of southern Florida to support the conservation and management activities of state and other federal agencies and the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Project Summary

Southern Florida's coral ecosystems are extensive. They extend from the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys as far north as St Lucie Inlet on the Atlantic Ocean coast and Tarpon Springs on the Gulf of Mexico coast. Using 10 fm (18 m) depth curves on nautical charts as a guide, southern Florida has as much as 84 percent (30,801 sq km) of 36,812 sq km of potential shallow-water (<10 fm; <18 m) coral ecosystems the tropical and subtropical U.S. Moreover, southern Florida's coral ecosystems contribute greatly to the regional economy. Coral ecosystem-related expenditures generated $4.4 billion in sales, income, and employment and created over 70,000 full-time and part-time jobs in the region during the recent 12-month periods when surveys were conducted.

Working with state, local, university, and other federal partners, NOAA is initiating an effort to map and characterize the coral ecosystems of southern Florida. The Southern Florida Shallow-water Coral Ecosystem Mapping Implementation Plan (MIP) that was recently finalized discusses the need to produce shallow-water (~0-40 m; 0-22 fm) benthic habitat and bathymetric maps of critical areas in southern Florida and moderate-depth (~40-200 m; 22-109 fm) bathymetric maps for all of Florida. The ~0-40 m depth regime generally represents where most hermatypic coral species are found and where most direct impacts from pollution and coastal development occur. The plan was developed with extensive input from over 90 representatives of state regulatory and management agencies, federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations involved in the conservation and management of Florida's coral ecosystems. The final Southern Florida MIP is available as a Tech Memo (TM) and can be downloaded here.

Mapping Priorities

The MIP summarizes the map product needs of the southern Florida coral ecosystem conservation and management community. These needs include detailed, georeferenced, thematically accurate shallow-water benthic habitat and bathymetry maps. While considerable scientific interest and management requirements exist for coral ecosystems of the entire southern Florida region, priority areas were identified. Priority areas include the approximately 13,000 sq km of shallow-water coral ecosystems found in Martin, Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade Counties, Biscayne National Park, Tortugas Ecological Reserve, Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida Bay, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (Figure 1). While considerable scientific and management interest exists in the West Florida Shelf, this area was considered to be a secondary priority area. As opportunities arise, targeted mapping activities will be conducted to characterize this area.

Based on geographic priorities and costs, the MIP recommends developing maps of approximately 13,000 sq km of southern Florida 's shallow-water coral ecosystems (Figure 1). The estimated cost to generate a detailed shallow-water benthic habitat map using high-resolution satellite or similar imagery is approximately $4.35 million. This cost estimate includes purchasing commercial high-resolution satellite imagery, producing the actual benthic habitat map from the imagery, and completing an independent thematic accuracy assessment of the map. Because of the technical and logistic challenges and financial costs associated with imagery collection and map production, it is anticipated that four or more years will be required to complete shallow-water benthic habitat maps of southern Florida.

Figure 1. A Landsat images mosaic of southern Florida showing, in yellow, the boundary of the approximately 13,000 sq km priority area where shallow-water benthic habitats will be mapped.
Figure 1. A Landsat images mosaic of southern Florida showing, in yellow, the boundary of the approximately 13,000 sq km priority area where shallow-water benthic habitats will be mapped.

Early Mapping Efforts

This site also provides access to the results of a seven-year cooperative effort between NOAA's National Ocean Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to map the types and extent of benthic habitats within the Florida Keys.

The benthic habitats of the Florida Keys were mapped from a series of 450 aerial photographs collected in 1991-1992. For this mapping effort, coral ecosystem ecologists outlined the boundaries of specific habitat types by interpreting color patterns on the photographs. Benthic habitats were classified into four major categories — corals, seagrasses, hardbottom, and bare substrate — and 24 subcategories, such as sparse seagrass and patch reef. Habitat boundaries were georeferenced and digitized to create computer maps. These digital data were then incorporated into a geographic information system for direct electronic mapping. Because these maps are now over 12 years old and include large areas of unmapped seafloor, a new mapping effort has been initiated.


Current/Completed -

Reports and Publications

Maps and Imagery


Future -

Maps and Imagery

  • Georeferenced, thematically accurate benthic habitat maps
  • CD or DVD Atlas of Southern Florida Shallow-water Benthic Habitats product


Relevant Links

Time Frame

Time Frame: Ongoing: 2005 - 2012

For More Information

Project Manager:
1305 East West Highway, #11415
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301.713.3125 x283

1305 East West Highway, #9306
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301.713.3028 x160

Related Biogeography Projects