Estuarine Benthic Habitat Mapping Program —
Shellfish and Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
North Carolina has the largest and most productive estuarine system of any state on the east coast. Just behind the state’s fragile strand of barrier islands, lie shallow sounds where the land and sea gradually merge to form estuaries and brackish wetlands that support large populations of fish, shrimp, crabs and shellfish. In order to promote shellfish production and protect vital shellfish and SAV habitat, the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) maps and samples the benthic habitats of the coastal waters to determine habitat type, acreage and abundance of oysters, clams, scallops and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). To date, the DMF has mapped over 602,000 acres of the coastal estuarine waters from Little River in Brunswick County to the northern end of Roanoke and Croatan sounds in Dare County.
Estuarine benthic habitat types are delineated systematically using sounding poles and GPS coordinates along a map grid. The benthic habitat types are classified as soft, firm or hard; vegetated or non-vegetated; and with or without shell. Benthic habitat types are sampled for the presence of shellfish and SAV using tongs, rakes and meter squares. Sampling data include shellfish species counts, SAV species and density and other environmental data. Estuarine benthic habitat maps are created utilizing Geographical Information System (GIS). By collecting and utilizing the mapping and sampling data; estuarine benthic habitat resource maps are created which delineate benthic habitat boundary types, SAV species habitat and productive shellfish habitat.
NCDMF Estuarine Benthic Habitat Mapping GIS dataset: click here