Marine Life Data

Regional Ocean Data Sharing Initiative: Updating marine life data on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portals

The Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) are partnering in 2021 to develop new and updated marine life data products for the Northeast Ocean Data Portal and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal. This includes combining funds and developing a joint work plan for the use of each region’s FY20 appropriation for regional data sharing. The goals of this project include continued collaboration with the Marine Life Data and Analysis Team (MDAT) and marine life experts in both regions on the development of methods and the review of critical updates to existing marine life data and new marine life data products that will inform decision-making and enhanced regional data sharing among data providers and users. Outcomes of this project will include updates to existing marine life data products on both Portals and the development and integration of new products that display shifts in species ranges over time and the distribution of species sensitive to specific activities and disturbances.

To support this work, we are re-convening the taxa-based Marine Life Work Groups that have been so important to marine life data development and maintenance since 2014, and adding new participants as our collaborations have grown. The Work Groups will meet on an as-needed basis throughout 2021 to advise on methods and approaches and to review draft and final data products and visualizations.

NROC/MARCO Marine Life Priorities for 2021

  • Develop cetacean and turtle distribution and range shifts data products
    • North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) monthly model updates; update summary products
    • NARW models range shifts pre- and post-2011
    • Composite overlay of all NARW dynamic management areas, 2002-2018
    • Explore potential development of sea turtle data products
      • Presence/absence map created by MDAT
      • Integrate NEFSC products derived from AMAPPS
  • Develop avian distribution and range shifts data products
    • Movement information data products
      • Piping plover migration routes (tracks)
      • Probability of occurrence for Common terns, Roseate terns, Piping plover, Red knots across Atlantic OCS in late 2021
  • Develop fish distribution and range shifts data products
    • Update existing NEFSC data products with most recent data to complete the current decadal product (i.e., spring and fall 2010-2019); update summary products; update online
      hosting services for individual and summary products
    • Develop additional summary products and focal subset of individual species products for previous decades (i.e., 1970-1979, 1980-1989, 1990-1999, 2000-2009)
    • Leverage the NEFMC and MAFMC work on the Northeast Regional Habitat Assessment (NRHA)
    • Update sea scallop distribution maps (drop camera, UMass SMAST), and dredge survey data (NEFSC)
  • Develop species sensitivity and risk data products for multiple taxa
    • Cetacean climate vulnerability (leveraging the NOAA Atlantic Marine Mammal Climate Vulnerability Assessment)
    • Cetacean risk to ship strikes – layers showing high risk areas for NARW, humpback whale and cetacean species groups (AIS data overlay)
    • Explore cetacean sensitivity to chronic and event-based sound with work group
    • Fish species sensitivity to disturbances associated with submarine cable projects
  • Develop products that address best practices for the use of data and information
    • Develop guidance document or other tool for using and interpreting species distribution model outputs (e.g., understanding input data density and sources, seasonal vs. monthly products, uncertainty)
    • Develop guidance document, infographic, and/or other tool to indicate how marine life observations collected by industry or other entities may be integrated into existing marine life data products or used to validate existing marine life models



NROC has funded and managed the development of ocean planning products through the Marine-life Data and Analysis Team (MDAT) since 2014, including co-funding and partnering with MARCO for many of those years. This includes products derived from statistical models of cetacean density, as well as similar models for marine birds and bottom trawl observations of fish. MDAT, NROC, and MARCO have also been supported by three taxa-based Marine Life Work Groups composed of regional experts who continue to review and provide feedback on marine life ocean planning data products, documentation, and considerations for presentation on the Northeast and MARCO/Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portals. Coordinated by NROC and MARCO, the marine life work groups play important roles in helping recommend what types of data products address current planning and management needs, determine when updates to data products are possible/needed, evaluate mapping and modeling methods, and review all final products before they are made available to the public via the Portals.

The present suite of MDAT data products focuses on mapping biomass (for fish) or predicting long-term average densities/abundance (for cetaceans/ birds) based on the integration of recent (i.e., last several decades) at-sea observations and environmental/oceanographic data. These marine life products are among the most highly used on each Portal and they need to be updated and maintained on a regular basis. The update cycle for these products represents one of the greatest expenses for each Portal. In addition, for multiple planning and management applications, there is a need to understand how and when species distributions have shifted and will shift in the future.


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