Seascapes: WWF-Canada and Conservation Law Foundation

Habitat classification maps showing the seascapes of the Northwest Atlantic Shelf region were developed by the Conservation Law Foundation and WWF-Canada as one component of a multi-dimensional effort to identify priority areas for conservation within the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and Scotian Shelf (i.e., 3 biogeographic areas). Seascapes are habitat types defined by a combination of physical characteristics of the sea (i.e., non-biological characteristics). The seascapes were used, in combination with maps showing spatial distributions for a variety of biological indicators to, identify networks of areas that include as many habitat types, and forms of biological diversity, as possible.

The seascape classification scheme was designed to capture the fundamental environmental conditions that influence ecological patterns and processes, and thus the distribution of marine biological diversity. Representing examples of each habitat type in a network of priority areas for conservation is expected to ensure that the majority of biological communities and species in a region will be included in the areas.

Seascape maps were developed separately for the seafloor (benthic) and water column (pelagic). Benthic seascapes were classified based upon bottom types, depths, and zones of temperature and salinity near the bottom. Pelagic seascapes were classified based on zones of temperature and salinity near the surface, depth, and the degree of stratification in the water column. Classification was executed by determining habitat characteristics for each 5 geographic minute square within the region. The data were principally from US and Canadian government surveys. The available samples for US bottom types (i.e., substrate) was uneven and interpolation was necessary to assign a predominant substrate class to each of the 5 minute squares. Within the three biogeographic areas, 77 benthic and 36 pelagic seascapes were identified.

Further discussion and references are available in a detailed report published by the Conservation Law Foundation and WWF-Canada in 2006. The report includes Classifying seascapes based on abiotic characteristics of the water and seafloor (chapter 8) which details the methods and results of this habitat classification effort.