Applied Research and Development: Ocean Mapping

Applied Research and Development: Ocean Mapping

Ocean ‘mapping' involves the creation of a two dimensional (flat) representation of the relative location of one or more features of interest within a particular area of ocean.

It requires:

  • detailed knowledge of the geographic location of the features of interest (coordinate systems)
  • the precise equations necessary to project the coordinates onto a flat surface (projection)
  • and an understanding of how best to display the features in a way that is easily understood by the viewer (cartography)

In this way, complex relationships in a three and four (including the element of time) dimensional environment may be reduced to their essence. The School of Ocean Technology is focusing on tools and techniques to map all aspects of the ocean environment, including phenomena on and beneath the ocean floor, within the water column, and at or above the ocean surface.

Recent work on George's Bank and Brown's Bank off of the east coast of Canada has demonstrated, unequivocally, that modern acoustic remote sensing technology (particularly multibeam sonar) when combined with appropriate survey methodologies and 'ground truth' data, can be used to map benthic habitat conditions preferred by Atlantic scallop.

This has had a significant, positive impact on the bottom line of this highly valuable fishery (less time, effort and money to catch a given quota; less damage to gear) and has also significantly reduced damage to the environment as a result of dragging. However, it is clearly recognized by all concerned, both government and industry, that these positive results only scratch the surface of the potential of using advanced ocean mapping tools and techniques to support sustainable, profitable fisheries.

One of the primary drivers for benthic habitat mapping is conservation. SOT is focusing its efforts on the development of methodologies that will help in the conservation of targeted benthic species and in the maintenance of ecosystem biodiversity.

Marine conservation is a major area of interest from many standpoints, and the use of marine ecosystems by different user groups is a controversial topic and hotly debated in many areas of Canada and the rest of the world. Asking the right questions about what to protect is key, and the various initiatives of SOT are designed to help answer those questions.

Turbot Habitat Mapping, Cumberland Sound, Nunavut

In 2007, SOT collaborated with the Pangnirtung Hunters and Trappers Organization and the Government of Nunavut on a demonstration project involving collection of multibeam sonar data for selected test sites in Cumberland Sound as a basis for mapping turbot habitat. Problems with the designated survey vessel (owned by the Government of Nunavut) precluded data collection, but interest remains strong and discussions regarding follow-on work are ongoing.

Northern Shrimp Habitat Mapping

SOT, with support from CCFI, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the NL Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, is working with vessels from the Northern Shrimp Research Foundation to demonstrate a methodology whereby echo sounders installed on fishing vessels can be used to collect seabed data and map benthic habitat conditions. This project is currently ongoing and preliminary results are encouraging.

Bathymetric Lidar Applications National Centre of Expertise (BALANCE)

SOT is leading a national team of experts in the development of a centre of excellence in bathymetric lidar. Bathymetric lidar is a technology for measuring the depth of moderately clear, near shore coastal waters and lakes from a low-altitude aircraft using a scanning, pulsed laser beam.

Water depth is calculated based on precise measurement of the time difference between the water surface and sea bottom returns. The latest generation bathymetric lidar systems are capable of mapping both marine and terrestrial terrain simultaneously, making the technology particularly well suited to shore zone mapping.

There is also the potential to extract seabed habitat information from the return laser signal. Application of this technology for benthic habitat mapping is still in its infancy, but preliminary results indicate that this will be a very effective method for mapping shallow (up to 30 metres) water areas.

Newfoundland and Labrador Seabed Atlas

Understanding the impact of mobile gear on the seafloor and benthos requires, first, an understanding of the location and extent of benthic habitat features (seafloor characteristics, energy regime), the location and extent of benthic communities (flora/fauna) and the location and extent of pre-existing perturbation.

With support from CCFI and NL Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, SOT has compiled a web-accessible digital seabed atlas for Newfoundland and Labrador waters. This atlas, compiled from existing data, will serve as a baseline to guide more detailed analysis of the impact of mobile gear on the seafloor and benthos in Newfoundland and Labrador waters, and a foundation upon which to build additional layers of data and information.

Fishery Management Systems

The number of fish stocks that have collapsed globally makes it clear that more effective fisheries management is the key to sustainable, profitable fisheries. While improved catch technology and methods can have some impact, better fisheries management is critically dependent on better data concerning fishing effort, catch (including by-catch, discards and mortality), and the environment in which the fishery is prosecuted.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, events leading up to the collapse of the northern cod fishery in 1992 clearly demonstrate the dire consequences of having too little data to manage a stock sustainably. Since then, the sentinel fishery has demonstrated how fishers and scientists working together can gather the data necessary to better understand and manage the fishery.

The eCATCH concept being developed by SOT is based on the recognition that individual stakeholders in the fishery have knowledge and understanding of the ecosystem that is limited by the data they collect and interpret. Fishers tend to have an historical, largely qualitative understanding of the movement of fish stocks and the relationships between species (e.g. capelin/cod) based on prosecution of the fishery year over year.

Most fishers maintain accurate records of their observations, but they do not as a rule share this information with others. Each fisheries scientist, on the other hand, tends to study one particular species, and often only particular aspects of that species.

They generally publish their findings in scientific journals, but make limited efforts to make these findings accessible to or understandable by the ‘lay person'. In both cases (i.e. fishers and scientists), knowledge is usually restricted to very specific geographic areas. None of the individuals in either group has a comprehensive picture of the ecosystem.

eCATCH is intended to address key challenges in two strategic areas:

  • sustainability of the fishery and marine ecosystem
  • profitability of the fishery

Those involved in the fishery presently have limited mechanisms for sharing information and knowledge. Fishers know fishing, scientists know fish, processors know the market, regulators know policy.

It is presently the case that participants in the fishery do not share a common perception of the state of the fishery. eCATCH promises to enable a more holistic approach to resource management, resulting in a more profitable and sustainable fishery.

The approach is unique in a fisheries management context. The key to both success and sustainability will be the development of relevant information products and the ability of all stakeholders to access these via the web.

SOT, in collaboration with Ocean Choice International and others, is a participant in a project funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to improve the sustainability of the yellowtail flounder fishery on the East Coast of Canada. A part of this project will focus on an investigation of methods to improve data and information access to support critical analysis and decision making to optimize harvesting strategies and practice sustainable and profitable resource exploitation.

Through this research effort, SOT will develop tools and protocols necessary to efficiently bring data from multiple diverse sources together to create useful information that contributes to knowledge and informs wise action.