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Predicting and Mapping Hawaiian Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems for Sustainable Coastal Development

Principal Investigator: Robert Toonen

Graduate Student: Lindsay Veazy

Although there is little question about the economic, ecological, cultural, and conservation value of coral reef habitats, growing population, tourism, and coastal development are rapidly degrading them. Our fundamental lack of knowledge regarding deeper mesophotic coral ecosystems (found at depths of ~30-180m) is a serious impediment to resource management. Here, we seek to use a statistical model to predict where mesophotic coral reef habitat will be found throughout the Main Hawaiian Islands and to test that model with observational data. We will use this model to produce maps of where MCE habitat occurs across the state, and hope to be able to predict MCE habitat at other remote locations across the Pacific where exploration is unlikely in the near future. The maps and underlying model will provide a scenario testing tool that will allow resource managers to explore consequences of some management decisions; for example, if sedimentation increases in an area, what will be the predicted impact on adjacent MCE habitat? Finally, the availability of MCE habitat maps will make it possible to begin considering these valuable natural resources in marine spatial planning for proposed activities, such as undersea cabling, that are not currently possible in the state.