What is Gulf GAME?

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy identified the need for a regional ecosystem assessment rather than site-specific management of ocean resources. The implementation of ecosystem-based management strategies for regional estuaries and marine waters has been a key goal in Florida for many years and would be of great value if applied to the management of resources in the Gulf of Mexico.  This project is directly related to the "Action Blueprint and Commitments," spelled out in Section ID-1 of the "Gulf of Mexico Alliance/Governor's Action Plan".

This project is directly aimed at providing database infrastructure to support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Strategic Plan Objective 4.3: "Restore and Protect Critical Ecosystems," which aims to protect, sustain, and restore the health of critical natural habitats and ecosystems.   By providing both core data layers to illustrate the current extent of seagrass beds, corals, and other benthic or deep-sea habitats as well as other habitats associated with the water-column, managers will be able to focus their energy on those areas of critical concern due to loss or degradation of these habitats.  Many of these data layers, for example oyster beds, are indicators of water quality.  By identifying the spatial, or study of a specific area, extent of seagrass beds, oyster beds, and other key habitats through this cataloging and mapping effort, coastal managers can protect and/or conserve priority habitats, identify water quality issues, and help maintain the ecological integrity of coastal areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

The aim of this project is to develop an inventory of habitat-related data within the Gulf of Mexico that will serve as a foundation to develop a spatial framework for ecosystem-based management associated with regulatory and planning programs and areas of government coordination. Ecoregions are spatial frameworks of ecological similarities and provide a very powerful tool for use in environmental protection. Their identification can provide multiple benefits such as identifying information gaps, locating appropriate monitoring and study sites, expand site-specific information to larger areas or interpolating to a finer scale, predicting effects of various management or development scenarios; identifying critical infrastructural relationships, assessing cumulative impacts, identifying habitats that should receive additional resource protection or conservation to sustain ecosystem health, biodiversity, and species of importance for fisheries.

The effort of identifying and cataloging habitat-related data may also be of help for the Governors' Action Plan "Wetland and Coastal Conservation and Restoration," particularly action blueprint R-1 No. 2, "to inventory current restoration successes and identify priority sites for restoration." It may also help with action blueprint R-2 No. 2, "to obtain information on projected relative sea level rise, subsidence and storm vulnerability to help prioritize conservation projects, including restoration, enhancement and acquisition." The project will be in line with the "Environmental Education," one of five elements of the Governors' Action Plan. In fact, the footprint mapping effort will increase the awareness of the Gulf habitat resources and "translate, communicate, and disseminate relevant scientific data and information to the public, including students, educators, resource managers, local decision makers and the business community," as required by the Governors' Action Plan.

This effort is in collaboration with (support of) the Priority Habitat Information System (PHINS) partnership "to provide users with habitat information and foundation geospatial data supporting implementation of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Governors' Action Plan."

Geospatial data is the concept for collection, information, storage, dissemination and exploitation of imagery that can be used in a variety of manners including maps, charts and publications.



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