Developing Alternatives for Optimal Representation of Seafloor Habitats and Associated Communities in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Rosamonde R. Cook1 and Peter J. Auster2
1U.S. National Park Service
2National Undersea Research Center and Department of Marine Sciences

Developing Alternatives for Optimal Representation of Seafloor Habitats and Associated Communities in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (pdf, 3.3MB)
The implementation of various types of marine protected areas is one of several management tools available for conserving representative examples of the biological diversity within marine ecosystems in general and National Marine Sanctuaries in particular. However, deciding where and how many sites to establish within a given area is frequently hampered by incomplete knowledge of the distribution of organisms and an understanding of the potential tradeoffs that would allow planners to address frequently competing interests in an objective manner. Fortunately, this is beginning to change.

Recent studies on the continental shelf of the northeastern United States suggest that substrate and water mass characteristics are highly correlated with the composition of benthic communities and may therefore, serve as proxies for the distribution of biological biodiversity. A detailed geo-referenced interpretative map of major sediment types within Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) has recently been developed, and computer-aided decision support tools have reached new levels of sophistication. We demonstrate the use of simulated annealing, a type of mathematical optimization, to identify suites of potential conservation sites within SBNMS that equally represent 1) all major sediment types and 2) derived habitat types based on both sediment and depth in the smallest amount of space. The Sanctuary was divided into 3610 0.5 min 2 sampling units.

Simulations incorporated constraints on the physical dispersion of sampling units to varying degrees such that solutions included between one and four site clusters. Target representation goals were set at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 percent of each sediment type, and 10 and 20 percent of each habitat type. Simulations consisted of 100 runs, from which we identified the best solution (i.e., smallest total area) and four nearoptimal alternates. We also plotted total instances in which each sampling unit occurred in solution sets of the 100 runs as a means of gauging the variety of spatial configurations available under each scenario. Results suggested that the total combined area needed to represent each of the sediment types in equal proportions was equal to the percent representation level sought. Slightly larger areas were required to represent all habitat types at the same representation levels.

Total boundary length increased in direct proportion to the number of sites at all levels of representation for simulations involving sediment and habitat classes, but increased more rapidly with number of sites at higher representation levels. There were a large number of alternate spatial configurations at all representation levels, although generally fewer among one and two versus three- and four-site solutions. These differences were less pronounced among simulations targeting habitat representation, suggesting that a similar degree of flexibility is inherent in the spatial arrangement of potential protected area systems containing one versus several sites for similar levels of habitat representation. We attribute these results to the distribution of sediment and depth zones within the Sanctuary, and to the fact that even levels of representation were sought in each scenario.

Keywords: Marine protected areas, sanctuaries, habitat representation, benthic communities, sediment, fauna, fishing, fisheries, conservation, optimization, MARXAN

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