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Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Cooperative Habitat Mapping Program

Department of Chemistry, Geology & Physics

The Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Cooperative Habitat Mapping Program delineates the distribution and abundance of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the estuarine and coastal riverine ecosystems of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia using remotely sensed data and field surveys. Because of the significant resources required, federal and state agency and university scientists created the SAV Work Group, whose first task was to initiate, in July 2003, a collaborative project to map SAV habitat in Currituck Sound and Kitty Hawk Bay, North Carolina and Back Bay, Virginia.

CoastSurveys of submerged aquatic vegetation have been conducted in North Carolina's estuaries (Davis and Brinson 1989, Ferguson et al. 1989, Ferguson and Wood 1994). The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries mapped SAV habitat as part of the Shellfish Abundance and Habitat Mapping Program. Much of these data are in digital format in a Geographic Information System (GIS). Little spatial data exists for submersed rooted vascular plants in oligohaline waters (0.5 - 5.0 ppt). This would include species such as Vallisneria americana, Potamogeton perfoliatus, Ruppia maritima, Myriophyllum spicatum, Stuckenia pectinata, and Najas guadalupensis. Comprehensive mapping of SAV beds is needed to update the existing data while adding to our knowledge of oligohaline systems. A long-term study of the distribution patterns, species composition, and abundance of SAV is presently being conducted in the Chesapeake Bay and Florida.

Coastal resource managers, wildlife and fisheries biologists and estuarine scientists recognize the important ecological functions of SAV habitat to fisheries, waterfowl, and water quality. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program (APNEP), North Carolina Department of Natural Resources (NCDENR) Division of Water Resources (DWR), Division of Water Quality (DWQ), Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) all support efforts to develop a long term SAV habitat study. The USFWS and the APNEP have listed SAV habitat mapping and restoration as a high priority for research needs and funding.

SAV has been identified by the NCDENR Coastal Habitat Protection Planning effort as a strategic habitat that supports juvenile and adult populations of economically valuable commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as forage species important to the ecological integrity of coastal aquatic ecosystems. Applications of remotely sensed data, both aerial photography and digital aerial imagery, can be used to identify, quantify, protect and enhance this critical habitat.

Credit: Image:Brian Montgomery, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Text: Water Cycle Study Group, A Plan for a New Science Initiative on the Global Water Cycle (2001)

ECSU SealNCDENRUS Fish and Wildlife ServiceNOAA