Prototype Biophysical Maps of the Gulf of Maine

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Changes in right whale habitat utilization

Distribution and movement in relation to habitat requirements

"Churchill":The story of right whale #1120

Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning: How Gulf-wide forces produce local effects

Large-scale migratory movements

Distribution of lobster postlarvae: Relationships to coastal currents & effects on lobster population dynamics

Mapping the movements of egg-bearing female lobsters and bottom temperatures

Northern shrimp: How maps tell two stories

Selected readings

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"… fisheries, embedded as they are in natural ecosystems, and relying as they do on natural fluxes of these systems, depend on the features of places. Thus, while we emphasize the variability of fisheries in time, we tend to lose track of their variability in space … Indeed, we hardly use maps to discuss fisheries (except for tunas). Maps, clearly, will be an important part of ecosystembased management …"
– Daniel Pauly, Reg Watson and Villy Christensen

In their recent essay on "ecological geography," Pauly,Watson and Christensen (2003) argue that advances in computer and mapping technologies will allow maps to once again become intuitive sources of information about marine life and its relationships to the physical setting. Many kinds of users, including policy makers and the public at-large, need maps to be able to absorb knowledge of the oceans and to participate meaningfully in the development of oceans policy. For scientists, maps are useful to quickly explore information and ideas.

In the Gulf of Maine, maps richly endowed with information and aimed at resource managers, policy makers, and the public already are in use.These include, for example, the Island Institute’s Environmental Atlas of the Gulf of Maine, the new edition of Bigelow and Schroeder’s Fishes of the Gulf of Maine, the real-time web site of the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System, the "high conservation value areas" mapping project of the Conservation Law Foundation and World Wildlife Fund-Canada, the Ocean Conservancy’s atlas of coastal protected areas, multibeam seafloor mapping of portions of the Gulf of Maine, and satellite images that map the distribution of sea surface temperature and other characteristics of the Gulf over time and space (see references).

The mapping of the Gulf of Maine, however, has been limited by an inability to combine layers of related data -especially biological with physical-to create composite pictures. Now that is changing. In fact, the evolution of geographic information systems (GIS) and Internet technology potentially will allow persons interested in the oceans to build maps on demand – using any combination of physical and biological features for which data are available.

The Gulf of Maine Census is taking advantage of these technologies and intends to produce an electronic Dynamic Atlas of the Gulf of Maine: an on-line atlas that allows users to visually link a great variety of data from different sources.While this tool will not be a replacement for critical evaluation of original data, it will greatly facilitate the surveillance and use of those data. For resource managers, educators, and industry, it will provide a new opportunity to explore patterns of life in the Gulf of Maine.

As Pauly et al. note in their essay, a number of issues will have to be sorted out before maps become a routine tool in fisheries and marine ecosystem sciences.The world of oceanography is relatively inexperienced at mapping multiple types of data collected at different times and with varying spatial resolution, and from that drawing conclusions about ecological patterns. Put simply, we’re not quite sure about the appropriate statistics where the ecosystem boundaries are fluid, data are often uncomfortably sparse, and the marine environment works at many scales of time and space.What is becoming routine in the application of GIS on land is still a novelty with much uncertainty regarding its application to thesea.

The Gulf of Maine Census is creating the Dynamic Atlas in stages.At present we are actively bringing fisheries and other environmental data sets for the Gulf of Maine from DFO-Canada, the U.S. National Fisheries Marine Service, and other sources into a system we are calling the Gulf of Maine Biogeographic Information System (GMBIS).This system includes a GIS-based visualization tool, known as the Environmental Analysis System (EASy), developed for use across the Internet. It also will include community-standard protocols for data exploration and downloading from other systems.We envision this as a major biological component of the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System.

Having the data available and having them connected to a visualization tool capable of creating maps via the Internet does not automatically make the system useful, however. Given all the gaps in data and the challenges of the marine environment, is it nevertheless possible to construct maps that illustrate issues of, suggest hypotheses about, or explain the abundance, diversity, and distribution of life in the Gulf of Maine? What kinds of cautions are needed to help non-scientists avoid misleading conclusions? What kinds of presentations – graphically, statistically or otherwise – would allow the maps to summarize knowledge in robust and useful ways? Can the tools of information technology lead users to the kinds of presentations that will be meaningful to them? Will these presentations advance our thinking and management?

The prototype biophysical maps that make up this volume explore these questions.They are mock-ups in advance of a Dynamic Atlas to see whether and how maps, using available layers of data on the Gulf of Maine, can be constructed to accurately frame an issue, relate a theme, or describe known relationships between an organism and its physical, chemical and biotic surroundings.They also serve the purpose of signaling the types of "threshold" gaps that must be overcome in the course of the Gulf of Maine Census to make this type of analytical tool useful.

In this small volume, we explore the issues around biogeographic map-making in the Gulf of Maine using several themes as test cases. It is a learning document, illustrating the kinds of mapped connections that can be made within current limits of data on the Gulf and underscoring the need to fill some serious gaps in information if we are to truly understand the Gulf of Maine as an ecosystem.

Evan Richert, Program Director
Lewis Incze, Chief Scientist
Gulf of Maine Census of Marine Life
University of Southern Maine

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Collette, B. B., and G. Klein-MacPhee, eds. 2002. Bigelow and Schroeder’s Fishes of the Gulf of Maine, ThirdEdition. Smithsonian Press,Washington, D.C.
Conkling, P., 1995. From Cape Cod to the Bay of Fundy: An Environmental Atlas of the Gulf of Maine. MIT Press,Cambridge.
Gulf of Maine Mapping Initiative. See,,,,
Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System,
Pauly, D.,Watson, R. and Christensen,V., 2003."Ecological Geography as a Framework for a Transition Toward Responsible Fishing," in Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem, ed. M. Sinclair and G.Valdimarsson. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Ocean Conservancy, 2001. Marine and coastal protected areas in the United States Gulf of Maine region. 96 p. The Ocean Conservancy,Washington, D. C.