A marine mapping tool developed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) provides information about which species are abundant in a given area and depicts temporal trends in ecosystem health.

One important use envisioned for the tool, which currently displays data from Maine to North Carolina, will be bringing marine protection into offshore wind energy planning programs. Users can choose a specific area of interest in offshore waters and the mapping system will show how habitats and species at that site compare to the full region. Decision makers in the wind development process can use that information to determine how the location for a proposed project is important ecologically.

The tool includes information about the makeup of the seafloor, the fish and invertebrates that live near the bottom of the ocean in a given area, the marine mammals that frequent a chosen region and other resources. Data from different times of the year, as well as historical data, can be compared.

"What we tried to do is provide you all the information so you as a user, the same way that you do with Zillow, you get all the information and you make an informed decision. We're not making decisions for you," explained Marta Ribera, a spatial ecologist at TNC. "We think of this as a decision support tool. So we're just trying to provide information so you as a user feel empowered to make those decisions about the ocean and start exploring why our blue surface is actually a lot more interesting than just a blue surface that's fully homogeneous."

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com