Using Advanced Mapping to Measure Changes in Mangrove and Seagrass Habitat over Time

In recent years, seagrass and mangrove deaths have accelerated in the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and other parts of southern Florida. Sea level rise, climate change, and severe weather place significant stress on these habitats, which are already under pressure from urban development, road construction, boating, and pollution. The loss of these habitats poses a threat to the local economy, as they support commercially-significant tourism and fishing industries. In order to mitigate and reverse the damage to these habitats, Rookery Bay reserve staff are looking for new ways to measure which pressure has the most impact and determine the location and extent of damages.

In this project, staff from Rookery Bay Reserve are partnering with researchers at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science to study the degradation of underwater habitats and coastal wetlands. Using commercial satellite images from ultra-highresolution cameras in space, laser topography maps collected from specialized aircraft (LIDAR data), and advanced high-speed computation, the team is updating existing habitat maps for the 110,000-acre reserve and creating new habitat maps. These maps will allow reserve staff to quantify changes to mangrove and seagrass habitats over the past decade and will guide reserve management priorities and future research on the causes of the decline.

Project References