Caribbean Benthic Habitat Maps

Photo © Planet Labs

Left: Planetscope smallsat satellite imagery. Right: benthic habitat map derived from this satellite imagery. Carriacou, Grenada.

High-resolution benthic habitat data fill a much-needed data gap for the Caribbean and are essential for strategic conservation planning and effective resource management. Many countries lack the resources and capacity to create these products which have hindered the development of accurate ecological baselines for assessing protection needs, monitoring change, and directing adaptive management actions. 

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has developed a first-of-its-kind, high-resolution benthic habitat map for shallow areas across the wider Caribbean region. Working closely with the technical staff at the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science at Arizona State University and Planet, TNC assembled a Caribbean-wide mosaic that blends thousands of cloud-free Dove satellite scenes acquired between 2018-2019. The Planetscope smallsat constellation delivers 4-meter imagery and near-daily global coverage which provides the ability to compile a cloud-free mosaic with ideal water clarity conditions for mapping underwater. Using new and innovative image algorithms to color balance, water column correct, and estimate depth the satellite data were processed to ensure optimal feature extraction.

TNC has developed an extensive object-oriented ruleset using the Dove-derived bathymetry and surface/bottom reflectance to produce an automatic thirteen class benthic habitat classification. Thousands of GPS-referenced underwater video transects as well as maps created using aerial and water surface drones provided the field data for calibrating the classes and validating the maps. This information provides an new ecological baseline for executing more strategic conservation actions such as implementing more effective plans for marine spatial planning and marine protected area design, monitoring condition and change such as post-storm damage assessments, and improving input data for ecosystem service models.  

This project was completed in collaboration with the Allen Coral Atlas, an effort led by Vulcan, Inc., to monitor the world’s coral reefs. 

Reference for these maps:

Schill, S.R.; McNulty, V.P.; Pollock, F.J.; Lüthje, F.; Li, J.; Knapp, D.E.; Kington, J.D.; McDonald, T.; Raber, G.T.; Escovar-Fadul, X.; et al. Regional High-Resolution Benthic Habitat Data from Planet Dove Imagery for Conservation Decision-Making and Marine Planning. Remote Sens. 2021, 13, 4215.

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