Benthic Cover

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The NOAA Office for Coastal Management's benthic cover data provide an inventory of nearshore aquatic habitats with a focus on living resources. Benthic-cover vector data sets capture the location, extent, general character, and spatial relationships of biological communities in shallow nearshore areas. These data were developed to support resource inventory activities and change detection efforts. They are useful for conservation planning, marine protected-area siting, and environmental monitoring.

Shallow-water benthic habitats of Redfish Bay, Texas. Greens illustrate seagrass meadows, reds are mangrove areas, and yellow are unconsolidated sediments.

Data Specifications

  • Area of Coverage: Varies by project. Normally range from mean high water to the limit of state jurisdictional waters (usually three miles). Project extents range from individual bay systems to entire state coastlines throughout the East and Gulf coasts plus selected bays in Washington and California.
  • Date(s) Available: Vary by location, ranging from 1995 to 2007
  • Format: ESRI polygon shapefile
  • Resolution: Variable, generally between 0.25 and 4.0 meters
  • Accuracy: Overall thematic accuracy of 85 percent


  • Developed in close cooperation with state and local partners to ensure high level of accuracy and applicability
  • Acquisition and mapping methods employ nationally standardized protocols
  • Classified according to the Florida System for Classification of Habitats in Estuarine and Marine Environments (SCHEME)
  • Developed through a variety of methods including visual interpretation, photogrammetry, and image segmentation

Data available in:

  • Alaska – Klawock Lagoon
  • Delaware – Delaware Bay
  • California – Humboldt Bay and Eel River Estuary
  • Florida – Apalachicola Bay, Estero Bay, Florida Bay, and Indian River Lagoon
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New York – Long Island South Shore
  • North Carolina – Bogue Sound and North Carolina Coast
  • Texas – Aransas Bay, Baffin Bay, Copano Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, Coastal Bend, Espiritu Santo Bay, Lower Laguna Madre, Redfish Bay, San Antonio Bay, Upper Laguna Madre
  • Washington – Willapa Bay

Notes and Limitations: Benthic habitat vector polygon data are normally intended for regional inventory purposes. Although the data may support site-specific investigations, users are encouraged to develop or obtain higher-detail data for this type of application if possible. Variation in environmental conditions between mapping efforts can affect the ability to use these data for change detection purposes. Users should understand the project area when conducting this type of analysis. No habitat information may be available for deep or turbid waters (optical imagery) or very shallow waters (acoustic imagery).

Stories from the Field

Conserving and Restoring New York's Estuarine Habitats
Benthic habitat maps were used to support conservation and restoration efforts in New York’s South Shore Estuary Reserve.

Mapping Critical Habitats for Ecosystem-Based Management in California
Benthic habitat data and imagery supported an ecosystem based management project in Humboldt Bay and restoration efforts in the Eel River Estuary.

Establishing Baseline Habitat Conditions to Monitor Salmonid Fishery Restoration in Alaska
Benthic habitat data and imagery help monitor change in the Klawock Lagoon after the construction of a culvert to restore ocean access.


Airborne Sensor Comparison Report - Redfish Bay
Presents a comparison between three digital mapping camera systems for benthic mapping and prop scar detection

Remote Sensing for Intertidal Oyster Mapping in Coastal South Carolina
Summarizes image sources, mapping methods, and infrastructure requirements for mapping intertidal oyster habitats 

Guidance for Benthic Habitat Mapping
Presents data collection, analysis, and validation guidance for mapping shallow-water habitats with aerial imagery

Summary View of Aerial Photography Survey Technique
Presents information on data coverage, scale, and resolution of aerial photography

Summary View of Satellite Multispectral Imaging Survey Technique
Presents information on data coverage, scale, and resolution of optical satellite remote sensing of submerged habitats

Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard
Provides a comprehensive national framework for organizing information about coasts and oceans and their living systems