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Ecosystems and Habitats

Ecosystems and Habitats . . .

The Gulf of Mexico is home to a variety of coastal and marine habitats, including wetlands, estuaries, barrier islands, beaches, oyster reefs, coral reefs, coral communities, and seagrass beds that contribute to its function, health and productivity as a single, interconnected system. These habitats are integral to the economies and cultural fabric of the Gulf and the nation, providing a range of ecosystem services such as fisheries, wildlife-related activities, food production, energy production, infrastructure protection and recreational opportunities. A strong understanding of these ecosystems supports NOAA's approach to management, and accounts for the complex connections among organisms (including humans); their physical, biotic, cultural, and economic environments; and the wide range of processes that control their dynamics.

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Areas of Interest


Coastal and Marine Resource Damage Assessment

NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program (DARRP) collaborates with other agencies, industry, and citizens to protect and restore coastal and marine resources threatened or injured by oil spills, releases of hazardous substances, and vessel groundings. The program provides permanent expertise within NOAA to assess and restore natural resources injured by releases of oil and hazardous substances, as well as by physical impacts, such as vessel groundings. DARRP experts are located in key coastal regions around the U.S. to ensure a quick response when incidents occur and to carry out day-to-day assessment, protection and restoration activities. DARRP's Southeast Region covers North Carolina to Texas and also includes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Coastal Change Analysis Program

The Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) produces a nationally standardized database of land cover and land change information for the coastal regions of the U.S. C-CAP products provide inventories of coastal intertidal areas, wetlands, and adjacent uplands with the goal of monitoring these habitats by updating the land cover maps every five years. C-CAP products are developed using multiple dates of remotely sensed imagery and consist of raster-based land cover maps for each date of analysis, as well as a file that highlights what changes have occurred between these dates and where the changes were located.

Functions & Values of Wetlands in Louisiana non-gov narrative image

Louisiana accounts for 80 percent of the nation's coastal wetland loss. Simply put, a large proportion of Louisiana acreage is wetland. Much of the state's economy depends upon wetlands. Find information on causes of wetland loss, definitions of wetlands and wetland functions and values.

Gulf Ecosystems and Hypoxia Assessment Program

Building on nearly 20 years of research, the NGOMEX program addresses the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico through the funding of multi-year, interdisciplinary research projects. Current studies are documenting the dynamics of the hypoxic zone over the Louisiana continental shelf and helping to better define the biological, chemical, and physical processes that influence hypoxic zone development and determine its extent, and impacts on fisheries.

Gulf of Mexico at a Glance

A Second Glance is an accessible reference to support regional decision-making and communications about the importance of healthy Gulf coastal ecosystems to a robust national economy, a safe population, and a high quality of life. It helps to better define the regional context in which state, local, and federal partners work together to better manage the Gulf's coastal natural resources.

Habitat Restoration

When habitat like coral or seagrass is damaged by a vessel or other human-induced event, the goal of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is to restore that area to the condition it was before it was injured. The sanctuary is able to seek damages from those responsible for causing the injuries through enforcement actions. The funds collected are used to implement the restoration project and monitor recovery of the site.

Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System

Provides information on the location, extent, and the potential for development or movement of harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA's Gulf of Mexico Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program

Work on the Gulf Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) is currently underway. NOAA will identify and accumulate relevant data sets and make them available through the IEA data system and services framework for use in food-web and ecosystem models.


Artificial Reefs

Reefs provide habitat for a wide variety of marine life. In areas such as the Florida Keys, reefs are closely connected to the economy, attracting tourists that use local businesses and supporting fisheries. Sometimes those reefs are natural (coral) reefs and sometimes they are human-made structures placed on the seafloor. There are a limited number of artificial reefs within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In general, these structures were established following review and permitting, to ensure that their development would not be detrimental to the marine resources of the Florida Keys.

Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS)

The Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) provides a comprehensive national framework for organizing information about coasts and oceans and their living systems. This information includes the physical, biological, and chemical data that are collectively used to define coastal and marine ecosystems.

Coral Rescue and Protection Program

Corals are protected within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, but sanctuary managers must balance that protection with the periodic construction or building that occurs in areas where coral is present. The sanctuary removes coral colonies from docks, seawalls, and shoreline stabilization projects, rescuing them from damage that would have otherwise occurred during construction. Rescuing corals enables permitted construction to continue, but also ensures that minimal damage occurs to corals in the process.

Currents in the Gulf of Mexico

A short explanation of the water currents in the Gulf of Mexico, including the Gulf Loop current.

Habitat Characterization in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico

A discussion of the different habitat types identified around banks in the northwestern Gulf and an explanation of the process by which they are identified.

Habitat Conservation

The Habitat Conservation Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Regional Office is responsible for the protection and conservation of coastal habitats important to commercial and recreational fishery resources of the southeastern United States. Efforts are focused on conserving coastal habitats in the eight coastal states from North Carolina to Texas, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Habitat Restoration

Since 1996, the NOAA Fisheries Restoration Center has been working in the southeast and Gulf of Mexico to restore habitat and has supported approximately 670 community restoration projects, benefiting more than 40,000 acres of marine fishery habitat and opening almost 150 stream miles for fish passage. With partners, the Restoration Center works to restore wetlands by protecting shorelines and reestablishing tidal flow.

Harmful Algal Bloom Research

Through legislatively mandated HAB national programs, NOAA has supported multi-year, interdisciplinary research studies to address HABs. Investigations have explored the factors that regulate the dynamics of HABs and how they cause harm, developed models that contribute to HAB forecasts, and used satellites and ocean observing systems, molecular methods from medical science, and biochemical analyses for the detection and tracking of algal species and their toxins.

Invasive, Nonindigenous Species non-gov narrative image

Louisiana Sea Grant sponsors research, workshops, and conferences, and develops teaching materials and publications in the state, region, and the nation to encourage awareness of nonindigenous invasive species (NIS). Nonindigenous invasive species (NIS) are non-native and alien to the local ecosystem. Their introduction can cause economic or environmental harm or harm human health. NIS are also called aquatic invasive species (AIS), aquatic nuisance species (ANS), and exotic species. They can be plants, animals, or other organisms such as microbes.

Long-Term Monitoring of Coral Reefs

This site contains explanation and reports from annual monitoring activities at all three banks of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, one of the longest long-term monitoring programs of a coral reef anywhere in the world.

Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Science Review of Artificial Reefs

This publication brings together and synthesizes a range of diverse information on the science of artificial reefs in the marine environment, to gain a better understanding of the current issues associated with the development, deployment and effects of artificial reefs.

Water Quality Monitoring Protection Program

Good water quality is critical to the health of coral reefs and all the habitats of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. To better undersantd how humans have an impact on water quality and how those changes affect sanctuary habitats, the Water Quality Program was created in 1994.

Gulf Habitats

Brine Seep Images

Photographs and brief descriptions of the area surrounding a brine seep at the base of East Flower Garden Bank.

Continental Shelf Banks and Reefs of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico

Descriptions, bathymetry maps, and some photographs of selected banks on the outer continental shelf of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

Coral Reef Ecosystems

Covering less than one percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs support an estimated 25 percent of all known marine species. And the variety of species living on coral reefs is greater than almost anywhere else in the world. Scientists estimate that more than one million species of plants and animals are associated with coral reef ecosystems.

Deep Reef Habitat

Images of various deep reef habitats in and around Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Fisheries Habitat non-gov narrative image

A link to fisheries habitat information and local, commercial and sport finfish, crab and shrimp.

Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems

An explanation of what mesophotic coral ecosystems are, along with photos of what they look like in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Mud Volcanoes

Images of mud volcanoes formed by methane seeps in the sea floor near Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Salt Domes

A description of salt dome formation along with an animated video representation of the formation process.

Data and Tools

Benthic Cover Data

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center's benthic cover data provide an inventory of nearshore aquatic habitats with a focus on living resources. Benthic-cover vector data sets capture the location, extent, general character, and spatial relationships of biological communities in shallow nearshore areas. These data were developed to support resource inventory activities and change detection efforts. They are useful for conservation planning, marine protected-area siting, and environmental monitoring.

Green Infrastructure Training

This three-hour course introduces students to the fundamental green infrastructure concepts that play a critical role in making coastal communities more resilient. Through lectures, group discussions, and exercises, participants will identify natural assets in their communities that improve coastal resilience and will identify key stakeholders and planning processes that can support green infrastructure network design and protection.

Habitat Priority Planner

This tool aids in making decisions about conservation, restoration, and planning. The Habitat Priority Planner takes away much of the subjective nature of the process by providing a means of obtaining critical habitat analyses that are consistent, repeatable, and transparent. The program allows users to easily test various ideas and "what if" scenarios on the fly, making it the perfect tool to use in a group setting.

Hydrodynamic Models

Provides nowcast and forecast information out to 48 hours for water levels, currents, salinity, wind and water temperature.

Land Cover Data

The Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) produces a nationally standardized database of land cover and land change information for the coastal regions of the U.S. C-CAP products provide inventories of coastal intertidal areas, wetlands, and adjacent uplands with the goal of monitoring these habitats by updating the land cover maps every five years.

Education & Outreach

Chandeleur non-gov narrative image

Reflections on Chandeleur: A video history on the United States second-oldest national wildlife refuge; a prized location for scientist, birders, naturalists and anglers.

Educational Activities and Lessons about Coral Reefs, Reef Monitoring, and Watersheds

Looking for curriculum and activities? Need a workshop application? You've come to the right place. For Students, Teachers, Teacher Workshops. If you don't find what you are looking for here, use the links at the top of this page to search the rest of the Document Library.

Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

Features over 6,000 square feet of interactive and dynamic exhibits.

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

An introduction to the location, history, and natural setting of the northernmost coral reefs in the continental United States.

Map of Undersea Feature Names for the Northern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean East of Florida

This map showing the names of the undersea features in the Gulf of Mexico was created by the National Geophysical Data Center.

Photo Tour of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

A "virtual dive" from boat to bottom and back again at FGBNMS using photographs taken by divers.