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Pilot Project to Assess Need and Initialize a Methodology to Groundtruth Existing Multi-Beam and Side-Scan Sonar Seafloor Charts 

Project summary: The need for accurate seafloor maps to support ocean resource management and develop new ocean policy is acute in the Gulf of Maine. By collaborating with the local commercial fishing industry, this project team is determining the extent to which existing USGS charts must be groundtruthed to ensure the accurate depiction of the seafloor. This project is also initializing an at-sea system for groundtruthing remotely sensed data used to generate seafloor maps by verifying sediment types and collecting physical and biotic data at sampling sites. The sampling protocol is based on fishermen’s input about areas that diverge and correspond with their knowledge of the seafloor and Captain BG Brown is assisting with all data collection and analysis. A quadrat with fixed video and lights was constructed and real-time video is being fed to a digital video recorder on the fishing vessel. In instances where it is difficult to distinguish seafloor characteristics from video, or to simply verify video data, benthic grabs and a ROV are deployed.

Ultimately, this study will initialize a cooperative efficient method to groundtruth seafloor charts and improve the understanding of seafloor habitat. These charts will inform and guide ocean resource management planning for issues such as fishery habitat protection, conflicting uses, cumulative impacts, and scientific research and monitoring. Moreover, an accurate depiction of the seafloor will provide essential information to evaluate potential impacts to the ocean environment for regulatory decision-makers that review both large and small-scale infrastructure construction projects such as deepwater ports, alternative energy projects, artificial reefs, subsurface gas pipelines and aquaculture facilities. Maps of the seafloor will also be extremely useful to the commercial fishing industry to help focus fishing effort, decrease steaming times, and reduce gear conflicts.

Project partners:
Dr. Sal Genovese, Northeastern University
Dr. Madeleine Hall-Arber, MIT Sea Grant College Program
Anthony Wilbur, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management
Captain BG Brown, F/V Kathryn Leigh
Olivia Free, Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership



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