Over decades, mankind treated the oceans as unlimited resources for food. Nowadays there is clear evidence that human impacts like pollution and overfishing destroy marine ecosystems and severely threaten the productivity of the seas. Declining yields in many fisheries and the ruin of marine habitats have heightened interests in establishing a comprehensive system of special conservation areas. Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) are designated for special protection and management of marine resources. To identify these special conservation areas, we first need a clear picture about the conditions of the ocean floor. With these important details, decision making governmental organization and other organizations like research institutes, are well equipped to decide about the effects of different activities on marine habitats, in order to manage human activities in the ocean better than before.
How do we get details of the ocean seafloor?
With the advances in optic, acoustic and global positioning systems over the last years, research institutes have the opportunity to map and monitor near and off-shore marine habitats and seafloors in detail. While using hydro-acoustic equipment like Side-Scan Sonar and single beam acoustic techniques (Echosounder) for seabed classification, we are able to measure the depth, as well as seabed “roughness” and “hardness”. These combined values provide an efficient way of habitat identification. We use extensive underwater video recording to verify these interpretations, classify the areas into different marine habitats and finally produce maps of the ocean bottom.
The images and information collected with our acoustic equipment are processed with GIS (Geographic Information System). GIS is a system for display and interpretation of bathymetric data sets, but also for integration, comparison and analysis with other kind of data (biological data on marine species, temperature and chemistry of the water column, and data on bottom currents, fishing and no-take zones, etc.). GIS allows us to design complex maps, regardless of the source of the data.