Composite showing three types of imagery from: remote sensing (left), manual digitizing (right), and newly developed semi-automated delineation (middle).
CSS staff developed a novel approach to help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reduce the time and cost of producing benthic habitat maps. The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force charged NOAA, in partnership with multiple other Federal, state, academic and nongovernmental organizations, to produce comprehensive digital maps of all U.S. shallow-water coral reef benthic habitats. These maps describe the location of seafloor habitats, their physical composition and their colonizing organisms. Fundamentally, the maps provide critical information about the extent and composition of marine resources, and are vital for communicating information about the distribution and abundance of species to policy makers, resource managers, scientists and the public. Until recently, the primary way NOAA developed benthic habitat maps was by manually digitizing and interpreting remotely sensed imagery. This approach, while accurate, was time consuming and subjective because the map's accuracy depends on the analyst interpreting the imagery. To help NOAA address these issues, CSS developed a novel hybrid classification technique, automating parts of the digitization and classification process. This semi-automated method increased the efficiency of producing accurate benthic habitat maps, and helped NOAA transform the process of benthic habitat mapping from a static, resource inventory tool to a dynamic, resource monitoring tool.