Stories From The Field

Identifying Priority Habitats for Conservation and Restoration in Coastal Alabama

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Issue

Protecting coastal habitats for long-term sustainability is a concern for communities in Alabama’s Mobile and Baldwin counties. To support the common goal of protecting locally and regionally strategic coastal and marine habitat, state and local government representatives, community members, and conservation organizations needed to identify conservation and restoration priorities using geospatial data and analysis.

Process

To address this issue, local stakeholders provided information about habitat conservation and restoration goals, objectives, selection criteria, and available data. Using this information and the NOAA Office for Coastal Management’s Habitat Priority Planner, the project team conducted geospatial analyses to identify priorities, and participatory mapping techniques were used to engage stakeholders throughout the process. The office developed an online map viewer, the Mississippi-Alabama Habitat Mapper, to make the priority areas and additional related data layers accessible for users with or without GIS skills.

Impact

The Mississippi-Alabama Habitat Mapper’s display of watershed boundaries, land use and land cover data, priority habitats, and impaired streams are informing public meetings, workshops, and related education and outreach opportunities. Impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have heightened the need and broadened the use of the tool. The Alabama Incident Command used the Habitat Mapper to confirm priority areas for placing booms in Alabama waters in response to the spill. Fisheries extension specialists also used the tool to determine optimal areas for aquaculture. The tool will remain a valuable spatial data and decision support asset as Alabama continues oil spill recovery efforts and organizations work to protect and restore coastal resources.

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This image highlights priority habitats as identified by community stakeholders. Some habitats identified for conservation and restoration include riparian buffers, maritime forests, and intertidal marshes and flats.
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